Not In My Backyard...

root - Posted on 30 September 2001

How providing a valuable service to the community got one woman blacklisted

by Verena Haemmig

I am a licensed family childcare provider and this is my story of discrimination while searching for rental housing in San Francisco, where I’ve lived and worked for over 30 years. It is written out of frustration.

It was many weeks ago when my son and I were served with an eviction notice to vacate the lovely home we had been living in for five years—the owner’s daughter was getting married and wanted to move in. It’s a fairly typical scenario these days. Of course it came as a shock, but then again, the same exact thing had happened to us in 1989, when times were different, and so was the rental market. I let the bad news sink in, cried a few tears, and calmed myself down. I told myself that we would surely find a new home since we were given plenty of time to look. We were excellent tenants with impeccable credit and references.

The despair set in as I began our search in the rental section of the paper, realizing that our rent would double. I would have to increase my childcare fees to top levels in order to cover housing expenses. The parents understood because after all, we are partners in this business of taking care of children. Nothing however, could prepare me for the hostile and negative responses I would receive from landlords and rental agencies.

For landlords, the word “daycare” often conjures up images of an illegal operation resulting in damaged property at the hands of screaming children running wild. I however, along with many other daycare providers, maintain a very clean and organized daycare that is licensed and fully insured. I have been trained as a pediatric nurse and have provided quality daycare to infants and their families in my home for more than 15 years, not to mention having raised two grown children. I have yet to be given the opportunity to share these facts with potential landlords before they shut the door in my face.

I have been snapped at by a rental agent who condescendingly told me, “You need a license for that!” before I could get the word “daycare” out of my mouth. I have gotten a verbal agreement from a landlord who initially wanted to rent his house to me, only to have him apologetically retract his offer for some vague reason. Most of them do not return my calls, even after I carefully explain my credentials. More than simply being at the mercy of exploitative rental fees, I am blacklisted because I engage in the essential and honorable profession of caring for children.

The last straw came recently when a spacious flat was shown to us in the same neighborhood where I raised my own children. It had everything we were looking for. We handed in our application and credit report on the spot. Instead of calling our present landlord as a reference, the owner called his lawyer. I received a phone call in the evening that went something like this:

“I am sorry, but I can’t rent the flat to you. My lawyer advised me against it because of zoning laws regarding childcare and using the flat for commercial purposes.”

“Sir, I am not operating a commercial enterprise. I take care of children and want you to be aware that you are prohibited by law* from discriminating against family childcare providers.” My voice was firm.

“Do not say that, “he said angrily. “You are accusing me. I made the effort to consult my lawyer and as you know, lawyers are paid by the minute!”

“Did you have a chance to call our present landlord?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I called my lawyer.”

I felt like suing him and his lawyer! An article in a recent publication by the California Association for Family Childcare states that close to one fourth of states have enacted legislation that allows daycare providers to use homes (caring for 6 or fewer children) as “residential use of property,” thus superceding local zoning laws*. California happens to be one of those states. A lawyer at the Childcare Law Center confirmed this and informed me that I am not even required to disclose to the landlord that I take care of children in my home. How do I fill out the rental application without directly mentioning my profession as a family childcare provider? I will have to use my imagination!

Finally, why is it that childcare, provided in homes, is viewed in such a negative light? We family childcare providers provide an invaluable service to the community. Many of us are educated in the field of Early Childhood Education. It is a fact that family childcare is the preferred choice of care by families for infants and toddlers. Times have changed and we view ourselves as professionals running a small business—the business of caring for children so that their parents can work.

The fact that the rental market is competitive does not give landlords the right to discriminate against family daycare providers or anyone based on their identity or profession. We deserve to be equally considered for housing.

In the meantime, we are still looking for housing and time is running out. I wrote this so that the general public and landlords in particular are informed and enlightened and may change their attitudes towards licensed family childcare providers.

* This is covered in the State Department of Social Services Health & Safety Code Section 1597.40 (b)


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