Focusing on Facilities to Address Child Care Supply in D.C.

The BABY Act would offer protections for home-based child care programs located in condominiums.
Blog Post
Tall apartment building in Washington D.C.
Sept. 8, 2023

The nation’s capital is the most expensive place for child care. And, there’s not enough to serve the families who want and need it.

A new bill in D.C. aims to protect the current child care supply, focusing on home-based programs located in condominiums. Home-based programs make up 22 percent of the total number of currently operating programs, and an even greater proportion in four out of eight wards (Wards 4, 5, 7, and 8). Compared to center-based programs, programs that operate out of the provider’s home are often a more affordable (yet still pricey) option. There are other benefits of home-based programs, such as greater flexibility to accommodate parents’ schedules, smaller program sizes, and cultural and linguistic continuity.

The same advantages that lead families to choose home-based programs often come at a cost for providers who face additional challenges when trying to run their child care business in the same place they call home. For home-based providers, rising living costs and the ever-increasing costs of renting or buying a home make housing affordability a common concern.

In addition, most providers operate on thin margins. So, when rent increases, a landlord decides to sell the unit, or associations complain, providers scramble to find a suitable option that meets child care licensing requirements while staying within their budget. These barriers disproportionately impact women of color who are more likely to be home-based providers and also more likely to experience systemic barriers when purchasing property. For a provider, it feels like a choice between housing stability and their business. At a systems level, this undermines the already low child care supply.

Any solution to address child care supply must consider the different types of facilities in which a program is offered, especially in a place like D.C. where multi-family units (including apartments, condominiums, and cooperatives) make up 70 percent of the total housing supply.

If passed, the Banning Associations from Banning Youth (BABY) Amendment Act would prohibit any new or revised condominium bylaws, rules, and regulations from interfering with the operation of licensed home-based programs, so long as providers remain compliant with other condominium association bylaws and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) child care licensing regulations. The bill also protects condominium associations by requiring child care providers to assume the financial burden of any building retrofits that are necessary to comply with building codes, pay any additional utility costs incurred due to the operation of the child development program, and obtain liability insurance that also names the condominium association as an insured party.

D.C. joins other states that have attempted to maintain and increase child care supply by removing barriers to operating licensed home-based child care programs. Starting in 2020, California’s Keeping Kids Close to Home Act protects child care providers by prohibiting cities and counties from requiring additional zoning permits or business licenses or creating special rules that only apply to home-based child care programs. The law also clarifies that landlords, associations, and property managers cannot refuse to rent or evict someone only on the basis of their child care business. Similarly, in 2021, Colorado passed legislation reducing burdensome and conflicting regulations for home-based child care programs, so long as they continue to adhere to state child care licensing regulations.

The BABY Act helps maintain the current child care supply, while also enabling future home-based programs to be offered in multi-family settings. It received full support from all councilmembers during its first reading and is currently under council review. But even if it makes its way through the legislative process without additional challenges, more work remains to be done.

As Clarence Whitescarver, Chief Building Official of the Department of Buildings (DOB) testified, “there are several other considerations that might prevent this legislation, in its current form, from accomplishing the intended goal of allowing multi-family condo buildings to be utilized as child day care facilities due to existing building safety standards.” These safety standards are set by construction codes, zoning regulations, and child care licensing requirements, which are all under the purview of different D.C. agencies and, at times, can be confusing for providers when the different agencies provide conflicting information. As an example, documents put out by DOB and OSSE state different capacity limits for CDHs.

Over the past few years, D.C. has tackled the child care supply shortage by increasing rates paid to providers for infant and toddler care, implementing a new compensation scale, and providing health benefits for child care providers. By upholding the rights of home-based child care providers who are an integral part of D.C.’s early childhood ecosystem, the BABY Act represents another important step toward shifting outdated mindsets and ensuring all children access high-quality early learning opportunities in whatever learning setting their families choose.