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In addition to the wide array of challenges that child care providers in America already face — low wages, few if any workplace benefits, lack of respect and professionalization — those who care for and educate young children in their own homes face an additional burden: housing.
As EdSurge has been chronicling in recent weeks, housing is a significant hardship for many home-based child care providers, sometimes forcing them out of the sector or preventing them from entering it in the first place.
In part one, we explored the nature of these barriers. Rising housing costs, pushback from landlords and homeowners associations, and a thorny regulatory landscape deter individuals from starting and maintaining their in-home child care programs. Part two looks at one provider’s experiences with housing instability over her last 12 years in home-based care.
Housing is among the reasons the number of licensed home-based child care providers in the United States declined by almost half between 2005 and 2017, experts say. Today, only about 90,000 licensed home-based programs remain.
Efforts are underway to offer some relief. In part three of this series, we featured two projects — the creation of a “child care-friendly landlord” in Clark County, Nevada, and the construction of affordable homes specifically for home-based providers in southwestern Colorado — that are emerging as bright spots. Indeed, those two programs have the potential to transform the lives of the providers they reach.
At the same time, a small but significant number of states — spanning all political persuasions — have passed legislation to remove some of the obstacles to providing home-based child care, primarily by limiting the onerous zoning requirements that providers in many states have had to navigate and by prohibiting landlords from rejecting their tenants’ requests to open and operate in-home child care businesses. There’s even been a bill in Congress to address housing affordability and child care access in tandem.
Such policy reform can present as wonky and technical — and in many ways it is. But some of these recent legislative changes, which we highlight below, stand to improve conditions for home-based child care.
States Making Strides
In June, the Connecticut General Assembly passed bill HB6590, titled, “An Act Concerning Certain Protections For Group And Family Child Care Homes.”
The law, signed by the governor on June 26, protects home-based child care providers by prohibiting zoning requirements that treat them differently than the residents of other single- and multi-family homes — a practice that has historically hamstrung those who wish to care for and educate children in their homes.
The law also prevents landlords from restricting their tenants from opening and operating home-based child care programs. At the same time, it lends protections to landlords whose properties are used as licensed child care programs, ensuring that they will not be held liable for any accidents or lawsuits that arise from the child care program.
By forcing the hand of landlords, this legislation will remove one of the key roadblocks for many prospective providers. It will also address the liability concerns many landlords have.
The law will take effect on Oct. 1.
In Oregon, a new law signed last month will require that landlords allow tenants to open and operate child care in the home when certain conditions are met.
SB 599, like other bills of this kind, aims to expand the state’s child care supply by creating new opportunities and spaces for child care programs to open and flourish. It passed the Oregon Senate with “overwhelming bipartisan support,” according to a press release from the bill’s co-sponsors.
“This bill is an important step to provide more affordable child care options so that working families can stay in their communities,” said state Sen. Dick Anderson, a Republican. “I applaud the efforts of the child care advocates and housing providers for their work on this bill, which has been a multi-year, multi-session project by many dedicated individuals.”
Tenants must notify landlords of their plans to use the property as a child care business. Landlords are prohibited from retaliating against tenants who wish to become child care providers, with rent increases or other actions.
The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
In the Sooner State, a law approved by the governor in May aims to protect providers from local zoning regulations that would impair their ability to open and operate a licensed home-based child care program.
The text of the bill is a brief 54 words, yet it’s likely to have an outsized effect on Oklahoma’s child care supply.
A press release from the office of Tulsa state Rep. Suzanne Schreiber, a Democrat and the author of the bill, explained that the measure is aimed at cutting red tape for in-home providers and providing relief to Oklahoma families who need child care to go to work.
The bill passed with bipartisan support.
“Removing barriers for not only Oklahoma businesses, but also for the Oklahoma families who rely on consistent and quality child care, is a common sense solution that I’m proud to have shepherded through the legislature in my first legislative session,” Schreiber said in a statement.
House Bill 2452 becomes law in November.
Less recent, though with ongoing impact, is a Colorado bill passed in June 2021 that requires home-based child care programs to be treated the same as residences for the purposes of licensing and regulations, including zoning requirements, land use development, fire safety and building codes.
In part one of this series, Stacey Carpenter, a home-based provider in Weld County, Colorado, shared how discriminatory zoning requirements hurt her child care business and, as a result, her income.
“Zoning has been an issue for us here, building codes, fire sprinklers — things that we can’t afford,” Carpenter said. “To retrofit this house for fire sprinklers? It would put me out of business. I don’t make enough money to do that here.”
For years, Carpenter operated her program below its care capacity due to zoning requirements that she couldn’t afford to address. She was licensed to serve nine children but only cared for six, meaning she missed out on additional income that she estimates cost her roughly $100,000 over a decade.
In 2021, after Colorado passed its rule regulating family child care programs, Carpenter was able to begin operating at full capacity.
In January 2020, California’s Keeping Kids Close to Home Act (SB 234) went into effect.
The law modeled for others how to legislate in a way that protects and supports home-based child care providers.
In short, SB 234 prohibits local governments from requiring small or large family child care programs to get a zoning permit or business license. It also allows home-based child care programs to open and operate in all manner of dwellings, including single-family homes, apartment complexes, condo buildings, townhomes and duplexes.
Further, the law says that landlords cannot refuse tenants who are interested in opening and operating a child care program in the property, nor can they evict tenants for doing so.