Dozens of young children, many low-income, will be displaced from their downtown affordable child care center after the nonprofit that runs it was unable to find a suitable new location.

YMCA of Greater San Antonio notified parents late last week it would be closing the doors of its Y Early Learning Center downtown to make way for the redevelopment of the Victoria Commons area, which City Council approved in October.

“It is with deepest regret that we must announce that we will be closing our doors at 440 Labor Street. Our official last day of operation will be August 12, 2022,” stated the YMCA in its May 6 letter to parents of roughly 88 children infants to 13-year-olds. A months-long effort to find another location in the downtown area, officials wrote, “has not been successful.”

News of the closure hit parents hard, most of whom are now scrambling to find new affordable care nearby. Many families served by the center are low-income and benefit from the low-cost child care it provides. 

“I broke down when I heard the news,” said Brielle Insler, whose two children attended the Y Learning Center for many years. “Because they mean so much to us. They do so much for the community.”

Other parents said they felt blindsided by the announcement; one started a petition on Change.org seeking to keep the center open, calling the decision to close it “rash.”

Officials with the YMCA, the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) and District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo, in whose district the center is located, said they have kept the community apprised of the need to move since last fall.

SAHA has leased the property on which the learning center sits to the YMCA for the past 12 years, after it asked the YMCA to take over after another nonprofit had to close its doors. Since then, the center has served thousands of children, according to its May 6 letter to parents.

Redevelopment plans were “discussed extensively” with the community “over the course of many years,” said Marivel Resendiz, senior communications manager at SAHA. The property will become new affordable housing, she said, which will help “to address the ongoing housing crisis in the city.”

Bravo, who has been in contact with the Y, told the San Antonio Report that before the zoning change for the property was approved last fall, community meetings were held to get area residents’ approval. 

But families with children at the learning center only received the May 6 letter announcing the closure, according to Shannon Gowen, senior director of communications for the YMCA, because the center had hoped instead to announce a new location rather than a closure.

“I think that’s where this [shock from parents] is coming from,” explained Gowen. “October of last year is when we were first notified we would need to vacate. Since that communication, SAHA and council persons have been in communication with us trying to help us find a new location.”

As families seek other affordable child care options before the center closes in mid-August, it appears fewer options exist than before the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the most recent data from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, which licenses day care centers and homes, there were 864 licensed centers in the San Antonio region in 2019. One year later, that number had dropped to 840. A licensed day care center is defined by HHS as a place that can care for more than seven children under the age of 13 at a public location more than three days a week.

Licensed homes, which can care for up to 12 children age 13 or younger, increased slightly from 123 in 2019 to 133 in 2020, but the number of registered homes, which can care for up to six unrelated children under age 13, also declined, from 331 in 2019 to 307 in 2020.

The Y Learning Center closure announcement comes on the heels of another recent day care loss. Just last month, a longtime South Side day care center was destroyed in an early morning blaze, displacing dozens of children and staff.  

Insler said the timing is terrible.

“The property values, the tax assessments, the appraisals, everything going up,” she said. “For the families who don’t have access to care that might need that help, with food and [child care], now they’re just like, ‘Well, what’s what’s going to happen to us?’” 

Bravo acknowledged the importance of having day care downtown for people who work nearby, like Insler, who has an office in the area, and others who work service jobs in and around the tourist center of downtown.

He said he has a commitment from the city manager’s office to review any city properties that may fit the Y’s needs and added that the Y is set to tour a church in the area that had a day care eight years ago.

Gowen said the nonprofit has been unsuccessful finding a building that meets the state licensing standards in areas with the greatest child care needs.

“Facilities we have gotten leads for so far need quite a bit of renovation, and due to the timeline, we are looking for something that is in better shape,” Gowen wrote. 

For now, the center is helping families find new child care and staff find new positions, either at other YMCA locations or at other day care facilities.

There is space at the YMCA’s two other Y Early Learning Centers, at 600 Leal St. and 835 Southcross Blvd., according to the letter sent to parents.  

Workforce Solutions Alamo also offers child care assistance with select providers to families who work at least 25 hours per week and are enrolled in training or school.

Some families might also be able to take advantage of expanded options and financial assistance from Pre-K 4 SA, which recently opened enrollment to 3- and 4-year-old children and expanded access to free prekindergarten for families making less than $75,000.

Those centers will have 2,000 spots available for 3- and 4-year-olds for the 2022-23 school year, which begins right when the Y will be closing. Summer activities are also available.

The loss of any child care facility is a concern for the whole city, Pre-K for SA CEO Sarah Baray. “It means that we have fewer high quality seats available to our families. … We have to really think about child care as a system. And so although this is one center, it impacts the entire system.”

Disclosure: Shannon Gowen is the wife of San Antonio Report Photo Editor Scott Ball.

Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.