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New program brings preschools to affordable housing complexes in Houston

A new state program allows preschools to partner with apartment complexes.

HOUSTON — A novel preschool concept is popping up around the Houston area.

Apartment complexes are offering a new amenity -- education. Through state tax incentives, some affordable housing complexes are also building preschools for their residents who qualify to use them for free.

The Fueling Brains Academy near Missouri City is a first for Fort Bend ISD in many ways. It's their first preschool for 3-year-olds and their first partnership with an apartment complex.

"The demand out there for early childhood is growing," FBISD Early Childhood Director Yady Blessinger said. "It's an amazing location because we are in the heart of the community."

Edison Lofts offers residents affordable housing, and as a perk, preschool.

Developer Donna Rickenbacker with MREC Companies said it made sense for everyone involved.

"A lot of these neighborhoods don’t have quality Pre-K programs at all," Rickenbacker said.

She said applicants seek housing tax credits (HTC) through a competitive process to construct and develop multifamily housing that is restricted to lower-income residents.  The HTCs provide the funding source to acquire the development site and offset the construction cost to build the affordable apartment community and all amenity features (pool, fitness center, etc.).  At Regency Lofts, Edison Lofts and OST Lofts (under construction), one of the amenities offered to the residents is a stand-alone Pre-K school that provides before and after-school care.  The Pre-K school amenity is offered to the residents with eligible early learners free of charge.

Parents said the convenience of having the preschool near their apartment can't be beat.

"Because living on the property, it’s very easy to just walk them in and come and pick them up. It just makes the day so much easier," Precious Lowe, who has two preschool-age children, said.

The model has been so successful that Rickenbacker said they've already built a second property with a preschool and a third one is in the works.

Regency Lofts, off 288, opened earlier this year. Its on-site preschool is run by the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity along with Cradles 2 Crayons Early Learning Academy and Community Preschools. It opened in July.

"They simply walk downstairs, they walk outside, they bring their child and their child is here," William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity's Cheryl Lawson said. "If you don’t provide that kind of intellectual education and intellectual growth for a child at 1, 2, 3, 4 years old, you really stunt their ability in elementary and middle school."

The aforementioned groups aren't the only ones embracing the concept.

"It's not a daycare. You're not sending your child to daycare. You're sending them to school at 3 years old," New Hope Housing Executive Vice President Tamara Foster said.

New Hope Housing is a nonprofit that focuses on housing those with very limited income. Weeks ago, classes started at their new Bezos Academy, a tuition-free preschool on their Reed Road property.

"Provide a really great foundation for our residents to have all of their needs served where they are at that one campus," Foster said.

New Hope Housing is also in the middle of construction on two other properties. They're hoping to have Bezos Academies at those locations, too.

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