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Home Based Business Evict


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                                                                        The emergence of home-based child care in New York City
                                                                                presents South Brooklyn Legal Services with a
                                                                            unique opportunity to help the community by turning
                                                                                     low-income clients into small business owners.
                                                                             ■   by Cynthia L. Cooper

                                                                             “Whooo, you made a spider,” Violet Williams tenderly              RECOGNIZING A NEED
                                                                             exclaims. “I love you, spider.”                                   With a growing number of low-income mothers seeking
                                                                                 Williams sits on a carpeted floor in her Brooklyn home         to successfully transition from welfare to work, affordable
                                                                             that doubles as her workplace. She is leaning against a wall      child care is in high demand across the Big Apple’s five
                                                                             that displays the alphabet and various geometric shapes           boroughs. Moms need peace of mind before they can get
                                                                             while wiggling around a toddler’s arachnid-like creation          ahead, which means knowing that their children are in
                                                                             of interlocking toys. At the same time, her gaze around the       good hands while they’re on the job. For many low-
                                                                             room provides her with an opportunity to survey nine              income parents, home-based daycare offers an attractive
                                                                             other tykes each eagerly crafting fantasies into objects dur-     middle ground between large, expensive day-care centers
                                                                             ing a play break with her assistants, Suzette and Gaylene.        and dubious, unlicensed babysitting arrangements.
                                                                                 “Oh, you made a bike,” Williams says to a youngster in            In New York City, licensed home-based providers
                                                                             a Mello Yello T-shirt. “Is there a man on the bike?”              offer daycare slots to an estimated 56,000 children. But
                                                                                 This is Verny’s Daycare, a licensed child-care facility in    daycare is a highly regulated field, and the complexities of
                                                                             the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.                  starting and sustaining a licensed child-care business are
                                                                             Williams is the founder, owner, proprietor, and operator          substantial. Realizing the potential of child-care business-
                                                                             of this full-scale, early-education center. Behind inauspi-       es to fuel micro-economic engines in poor neighbor-
                                                                             cious apartment doors, Williams’ living room magically            hoods, South Brooklyn Legal Services (SBLS) launched
                                                                             transforms from a singing circle (“The money on the bus           its Child Care Network Support Project in 2000.
                                                                             goes clink-clink-clink”) to a reading center to a lunch               Williams opened Verny’s in July 2003 and received crit-
                                                                             room and, finally, to a nap space. Musical devices, books,         ical operational assistance from SBLS. She says, “It’s a
                                                                             and two computers are tucked into the apartment’s cor-            whole different feeling when someone calls me and says,‘I
                                                                             ners. The hallway is lined with curricula, meal schedules,        want to speak with Miss Williams, the owner.’”
                                                                             tips to parents, sand art from a seaside trip, and a state-           Success stories like Williams’ are the reason SBLS offers
                                                                             ment of Williams’ philosophy promoting “a clean, safe,            a unique blend of legal assistance and economic develop-
                                                                             nurturing, high-quality, developmentally appropriate              ment to aspiring daycare owners, says attorney Sarah
                                                                             environment” for children. Williams, a Caribbean immi-            Dranoff, who directs the SBLS program of training,
                                                                             grant with two children of her own in high school and col-        advice, case analysis, and advocacy. “We’re about the pro-
                                                                             lege, used to be a nanny on New York’s ritzy Upper East           fessionalism of providers and allowing them to do their
                                                                             Side. “I was really in love with those kids,” she says. “But it   jobs. …it’s helping people view themselves as business
                                                                             was time for me to do something else with my life.”               people—to see it not as babysitting, but a real job.”
                                                                                 It was time to become an entrepreneur.                            Most home-based providers are not sophisticated in

30   LSC’s equal JUSTICE   FALL 2004   GETTY IMAGES / BARBARA PEACOCK                                                                                                        www.ejm.lsc.gov   LSC’s equal JUSTICE   31
                                                                                                        nizations: the Business Outreach                             curricular items for “Heavenly Day Care,”a child-care cen-           Mohammed had applied in a timely
                                                                                                        Center and the Child Develop-                                ter serving the low-income community of East New York.               fashion; it was the bureaucracy that
                                                                                                        ment Support Corporation. The                                                                                                     caused a glitch in the processing. In
                                                                                                        three organizations together                                 SOLVING PROBLEMS                                                     blaming Mohammed, HRA ignored a
                                                                                                        form the Child Care Business                                 For advocates at South Brooklyn Legal Services, the day-             state administrative mandate that keeps
                                                                                                        Development Project, which                                   care assistance is a natural fit with work that program               licenses active while renewal procedures are
                                                                                                        aims to develop high-quality and                             lawyers in the benefits unit have been doing since new pub-           under way. Denied adequate payment, Moham-
                                                                                                        sustainable home-based child-                                lic-assistance legislation took effect in the late 1990s. The        med was forced to release the children from her care. After
                                                                                                        care services in the community.                              federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)                negotiations with HRA failed, South Brooklyn Legal
                                                                                                        The project, the only one of its                             program provides for childcare subsidies when an eligible            Services went to court on Mohammed’s behalf and
                                                                                                        type in the nation, is funded by                             child’s parent is making the transition from welfare to              secured back payments. SBLS lawyers also succeeded in
                                                                                                        the U.S. Department of Health                                work. But because of a lack of affordable daycare options,           getting HRA to change its procedures so that licenses are
                                                                                                        and Human Services and the                                   cumbersome paperwork requirements, and bureaucratic                  considered active during the renewal process.
                                                                                                        Administration for Children and                              backlogs, many TANF subsidies aren’t paid out.                           SBLS litigation also challenged an HRA practice that
                                                                                                        Families. So far, the collaboration                              According to a 2002 study commissioned by the                    was routinely depriving child-care providers of income
                                                                                                        has graduated five classes of day-                            Citizens’ Committee for the Children of New York,                    owed them. To calculate monthly fees, HRA was multi-
                                                                                                        care providers.                                              approximately 139,000 kids under the age of 12 were eli-             plying weekly amounts by four weeks, even though an
                                                                                                          Denise Touissant, who now                                  gible for TANF subsidies but not enrolled in a daycare               average month has 4.33 weeks. Daycare providers were
                                                                                                        operates Naomi’s Playground in                               program while their mothers were at work. SBLS attor-                losing four weeks worth of government subsidies each
                                                                                                        Brooklyn, says,“When I was look-                             neys work to address the institutional problems that pre-            year—an amount most could ill-afford to forfeit. In the
                                                                                                        ing for child care as a working                              vent the subsidies from being paid out to the providers.             end, HRA settled the litigation, which meant hundreds of
     Graduates from the intensive course offered by the Child Development    parent, I was scared by the level of service I saw.” So she                             “We’ve done a lot of developing of the case law,” Dranoff            thousands of dollars in additional payments were made
     Support Corporation qualify for funding from Trickle Up, which offers   enrolled in the course in order to provide a higher standard                            says. “There’s a lot of room for creative lawyering here. It’s       to home-based daycare owners. “It’s tough for providers,”
     seed money to low-income people with viable business ideas.             of care to kids in her neighborhood. Jennifer Gager, direc-                             a process of educating the judges as well.”                          Dranoff says, “but at least the system has been cleaned up
                                                                             tor of the Child Care Business Development Project, says                                    Thelma Mohammed, a licensed home-based provider,                 a lot in terms of the handling of notices and payments.”
     the financial, regulatory, tax, or legal issues that can arise           many course graduates “went into business out of frustra-                               came to SBLS when the city-run Human Resources                           Home-based providers in New York City also face
     in running a business, especially one that is as closely                tion after looking for quality child care for their own chil-                           Administration (HRA) shortchanged her on subsidies for               daunting facility problems, Dranoff says. Some face
     monitored as a daycare operation, says Raun J.                          dren so they could be at peace while meeting their other                                two children who were enrolled in her daycare program.               harassment by landlords, who threaten to evict them
     Rasmussen, SBLS chief of litigation and advocacy. In the                commitments.” Participants in the course learn about                                    HRA claimed it had withheld the payments because                     because of their businesses despite case law that says the
     absence of support for these business owners, the failure               administrative law, regulatory appeals, contracts, preven-                              Mohammed’s license renewal was incomplete. However,                  promotion of child care preempts private contracts and
     rate is high, he says, creating instability for parents and             tive law, taxes, self-representation in small claims court,                                                                                                  zoning regulations. They also encounter difficulties pass-
     children. Common problems encountered by daycare                        along with other business and marketing topics. More                                                                                                         ing rigorous, inconsistent safety inspections.
                                                                                                                                                                     Many working mothers like Pauline Ferrell-Buckmire decide to start
     businesses include delays in licensing or renewal, difficul-             than 50 individuals, mostly women of color, have com-                                                                                                            In order to open Nyedia’s Day Care and Learning
                                                                                                                                                                     their own child-care businesses after struggling to find first-rate,
     ties in obtaining liability insurance, threat of illegal evic-          pleted the training program so far. At the graduation cer-                              affordable care for their own children.                              Center in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of
     tion, problems in securing payment from the government,                 emony in September, 14 graduates stood under a banner                                                                                                        Brooklyn, Kim Lawson bought a carbon monoxide
     and recordkeeping and tax issues.                                       that read: “Child Care Means Business.”                                                                                                                      detector, reversed the knob on the bathroom door, and
         Most new daycare operators turn to one of New York’s                    “‘Cash flow’—I didn’t know what that meant,” says                                                                                                         posted emergency signs. Yet the unusual location of her
     roughly 100 child-care networks for assistance, Rasmussen               Deborah Porter, who today runs Jalen’s Day Care in                                                                                                           planned facility tucked away in the lower level of a three-
     says. The networks are independent associations that offer              Brooklyn and brought her two sisters, son, grandson, and                                                                                                     family home brought objections from inspectors.
     essential resources to child-care providers, such as techni-            niece to the graduation ceremony. “I never studied any-                                                                                                      Lawson called SBLS, and paralegal Holly Chen met
     cal assistance, lending libraries, and educational planning.            thing like this. But now, I know.”                                                                                                                           inspectors at Lawson’s home and demonstrated how the
     The networks also manage government agency contracts                        “I learned that you have to document everything if you                                                                                                   location met safety regulations. “It’s so comforting to
     for daycare referrals and lunch subsidies for children who              want it to stand up in court,” says Esther Scott, a former                                                                                                   know you can call an attorney as back-up if anything
     qualify through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.                  emergency medical technician who now runs the                                                                                                                comes up,” Lawson says.
         With an annual budget of $225,000 raised from inde-                 Midwood Street Early Learning Center in a first-floor                                                                                                              Other SBLS casework involves helping providers dis-
     pendent grants, the SBLS project assists both the networks              apartment, having completed the training program this                                                                                                        pute wrongful allegations that occasionally surface in
     and the providers. Rasmussen initiated the project after                year. “I have a contract with parents, and it is enforced.”                                                                                                  background checks. Advocates also look into the improp-
     seeing first-hand how much misinformation was being                          Hyacinth Lett, a rare male participant in the program,                                                                                                   er denial of applications to open bank accounts and help
     disseminated to new daycare owners, recalling an episode                plans to open Integrity Group Day Care with his wife,                                                                                                        clients with audits challenging their business deductions.
     in which he sat through an insurance agent’s presentation               Lucy Ann, this winter. “I’ve learned very much, especially                                                                                                       Kansy Miles, who runs Can Do Snuggery Group
     that nearly made his head spin.“This guy was giving them                about the running of a business,” he says.                                                                                                                   Family Day Care in Brooklyn, credits the business-devel-
     all kinds of misleading information,” he remembers. “I                      As part of the coursework, participants complete busi-                                                                                                   opment course for the current success of her home-based
     saw a potential client population who could really use our              ness plans detailing the specifics of the daycare operation                                                                                                   business.“I keep my training book second to my Bible; I’m
     help and our advocacy. No other legal services program                  they plan to open. The best business plans qualify for                                                                                                       constantly referring to it,” she says. “I feel like it’s a calling
                                                                                                                                              JONAH GENSLER PHOTOS

     was doing it.”                                                          grant funds through the Daycare Microenterprise                                                                                                              to advocate for children, to mentor them, to help them
                                                                             Initiative of Trickle Up, an international organization that                                                                                                 and their families. But in daycare, to do a good communi-
     DAYCARE 101                                                             provides seed money to low-income individuals with                                                                                                           ty service, you have to do good business.” ■
     In addition to filing litigation and giving advice, SBLS                 viable business ideas. Karen Hamilton secured funds from
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Cynthia L. Cooper is an independent journalist in New York City who writes
     offers an intensive, nine-week course in daycare entrepre-              Trickle Up to buy a table, cots, bicycles, a playpen, a high                                                                                                 frequently about the law, justice, and women’s issues. She is also an
     neurship in partnership with two other community orga-                  chair, an easel, and a laminating machine to develop                                                                                                         attorney and worked for 2 1/2 years as a legal services lawyer.

32   LSC’s equal JUSTICE   FALL 2004                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           www.ejm.lsc.gov      LSC’s equal JUSTICE   33

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