Vancouver condo developments adding childcare spaces

One year from now, the swank 202-suite condo complex Atelier on Robson is scheduled to open its doors at 833 Homer Street. On-line, the luxury building’s salespeople talk up three amenities: a 24-hour concierge, a rooftop garden, and the A Club, a fitness studio featuring a “yoga patio”.

Atelier boasts one more amenity not listed on-line: a 37-space child-care centre. In a deal that Magellen 20/20 made with the City of Vancouver in January 2007, the developer agreed to build the 13,900-square-foot centre and make a cash contribution of at least $1.1 million to the city’s Childcare Endowment Fund, in exchange for 68,841 additional square feet of residential density.

The city’s report states that the amenity package is worth $8.52 million in total.

Upscale condo realtor Nahid Aghamolla told the Georgia Straight that buyers at exclusive complexes such as Atelier—where a two-bedroom, 873-square-foot home is selling for $749,000—aren’t interested in childcare.

“Nobody cares about these things,” she said, noting that most buyers don’t have children. “Nobody asks for childcare. They ask for the gym. If they don’t have one, they want to know where the closest ones are. Or restaurants and bars. But they never ask about childcare.”

For the rest of the city, however, child-care wait lists of up to 1,500 children mean centres such as Atelier’s are in demand. In fact, over the next two years, rezoning and density bonusing—such as what’s happened at Atelier—is about to make a major mark on the child-care scene.

So far, 542 childcare spaces at 13 centres have been created through density bonuses, according to numbers obtained from the city’s social-planning department. By early 2010, that will almost triple to 1,464 spaces. At developments from East Fraserlands to the Shaw Tower and Southeast False Creek, another 14 centres are set to open within two years.

That’s significant, according to newly reelected Vancouver school trustee Sharon Gregson. But, she noted, it won’t solve the region’s child-care crisis.

“Any way we can create more not-for-profit quality child-care spaces in this city is a good thing,” Gregson told the Straight. “We’re only serving 13 percent of the need for childcare. There’s so much need.”

If licensed care is available for just 13 percent of children aged zero to 12, Vancouver has a need for more than 50,000 licensed spaces, 2006 census numbers indicate. Gregson said that, if the crisis is to be relaxed, the province must come forward with greater child-care funding, and the city’s schools must lift the ban on using empty classrooms as child-care spaces.

The childcare-for-density trade hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In the early 1990s, for example, CityGate II built two child-care centres. One, for three- to five-year-olds, has been in place ever since. The other, built for infants and toddlers, never opened, as no operator agreed to run it.

Vancouver’s director of social planning, Mary Clare Zak, assured the Straight that operators have since expressed interest in CityGate II and the centres at the Hills and the new Southeast False Creek community centre. Early in 2009, she said, her department will be recommending operators for these facilities.

Zak noted that childcare is an increasingly popular amenity among developers.

“We’re seeing, particularly in the downtown area, a lot more young families moving into condos,” she said. “I think we’re used to, well, if you’re a family you should be in a house or a townhouse. I think we’re growing up as a city.”

But Zak, along with senior social planner Vickie Morris, said the opening of the promised centres depends on a healthy economy.

“The delivery of those really depends on what happens in the real-estate market,” Morris told the Straight. “They may be secured in principle, in theory, but the timing of the delivery of them really depends on the market and whether the rest of the development that triggers the requirement for them actually goes forward.”