United Way Advocacy: Taking a Stand for Child care
United Way of King County advocates for you and your neighbors. From city halls to county chambers to the Olympia State House, we and our community partners are petitioning lawmakers to enact policies that will ensure a better quality of life for all residents while undoing systemic racism and economic inequality.
Our efforts have generated key policy, budget, and implementation wins. This is a monthly advocacy blog post that highlights those victories and explains their impact. This month we highlight a 2023 state legislative win for child care providers statewide: House Bill 1199, which prohibits homeowners associations from unreasonably restricting the operation of home child care facilities or child care centers.
House Bill 1199 was passed with bipartisan support and was led by state representative Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), who advocates for child care facilities at a time when the lack of affordable child care has impacted both families and the state’s economy.
House Bill 1199 was drafted after home-based child care providers statewide complained that homeowners associations sought to shut them down via lawsuits, eviction threats, and fines. House Bill 1199 permits licensed child care providers to operate out of their homes or as stand-alone facilities on homeowners association properties.
United Way not only supported House Bill 1199 but funded a group of Black child care providers called Linked Arms, who advocate for improving the small business climate for child care. United Way sat down with Linked Arms member Torrie Amaratunge of Edmonds, who runs Little Kings and Queens Childcare Center and Preschool out of her home.
United Way of King County: Tell us a little about you and how you got involved in this work.
Torrie Amaratunge: Before this work, I was in dentistry for 12 years. The last place I was employed was Seattle Children’s Hospital at the dental clinic. There were some things there that weren’t in the best of equity, and I had to get out of there. I really saw how I impacted all the children and parents that were there. They would light up when they saw me. They requested me to work on them; they didn’t want anyone else but Ms. Torrie.
So, I asked myself, “What can I do that would still be in the same vein of helping kids?” I didn’t have too many options. I thought about child care. I knew I wanted to start my family shortly after, too. So, I said that’s a no-brainer. That’s how I got into the business. I started my business in 2019. I began in Lynnwood, and there I could have only 11 kids because of the square footage. But after I got this house [in Edmonds] I have enough square footage for quite a few more.
United Way of King County: For someone who doesn’t know about in-home child care, what is it like?
Torrie Amaratunge: There are pros and cons. One of the cons is you’re always at work. I need to email this parent or write up this contract. But there are so many pros: There’s no commute, you’re not paying for office space, and you can write it off on your taxes. For the kids, there are lots of pros, because in centers they are divided by age.
At home, the smaller kids can watch and see and benefit from the older kids. They can hear their language and pick up on those words.
United Way of King County: What have your challenges been regarding your homeowners association?
Torrie Amaratunge: My neighbors have been trying to get me shut down; they complain to the HOA. They’ve made it very clear that the [child care] is unwanted here. That’s why we got the bill passed. My HOA opened a lawsuit against me just for having my day care.
I thought that was peculiar because I looked up and there are nearly 70 other homes that have businesses tied to their home addresses within my existing HOA. Some of those businesses have been in operation for more than a decade. It’s been a little over a year since I’ve been here. My HOA opened up a lawsuit against me, and a neighbor opened up a lawsuit against me too, about the property line not being accurate.
Torrie Amaratunge (continued): I hadn’t even been here for six months. I was still trying to get everything in order. I began talking to someone who was going through the same thing with her HOA and another who was going through the same thing. We were kind of like the powerhouse of the bill, five of us. We just talked to each other, and we got SEIU 925 involved. They stepped up in the end and got this done.
United Way of King County: How critical was the bill’s passage at this time, given the current child care landscape?
Torrie Amaratunge: This state is basically a child care desert throughout the entire state. We can’t afford to lose the few child care facilities we have left. It was so important for House Bill 1199 to be passed; without it where can you move? My house was built in the 1970s, so it’s not just new homes that are governed by HOAs. A lot of homes are in HOAs, and if they say no business, that means no business.
United Way of King County: What were some of the immediate impacts of House Bill 1199?
Torrie Amaratunge: It liberated me. I prayed, “Lord, I am helping your children. I felt like this is what I’m supposed to do on this earth, but it’s becoming really hard right now.” I said, “God, if this is what you have for me, then fix it.” The next day, I talked to Representative Tana Senn and Senator Andy Billig (D-Spokane), and I told them everything. I told them about my friend whose HOA was fining her $100 every day she was open. I said, “Is that going to be my story next? This is outrageous!”
I was really empowered after hearing them say they were going to help us. The next thing I knew was they were writing legislation and that’s where Linked Arms and [Linked Arms leader] Mary Curry came in.
United Way of King County: How did Linked Arms help to get the bill passed?
House Bill 1199:
A unit owners’ association in a common interest community (CIC) subject to the Washington Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act (WUCIOA), the Homeowners’ Association Act, the Washington Condominium Act, and the Horizontal Property Regimes Act may not prohibit, unreasonably restrict, or limit the use of a unit as a licensed family home child care or licensed child day care center. An association is not prohibited from imposing reasonable regulations on a family home child care or a child day care center as long as the regulations are identical to those applied to all other units within the same association. ~ Source: Washington Legislature.
Torrie Amaratunge: Mary Curry was calling California and speaking with them about the wording of their [similar] law. That’s where we got the wording of our law from. We kind of piggybacked off of Mary Curry doing a lot of the footwork in the background. Also, we knew that adult family care centers were already protected. So, we were like, “What’s the difference, other than the age of the human?” So, that was our game plan: to piggyback off of California’s law and to piggyback off of a law that was already implemented to protect family homes.
We were all there when Governor Inslee signed the bill into law. And this bill was passed with an emergency clause attached to it. That meant the second Governor Inslee signed it, it became a law. We were safe, we were protected. Then we can continue to keep the kids safe and protect them.
United Way of King County: And what became of those lawsuits from your HOA and your neighbor?
Torrie Amaratunge: So as soon as Governor Inslee signed it, my HOA left me alone. I had a guy coming to my door, ringing my doorbell, looking in the windows, trying to serve me the lawsuit. And I never saw him again after Governor Inslee signed that bill. It’s done a lot for other people looking to purchase a home. Now, their options are broader. They don’t have to search for a home that doesn’t have a HOA, because there aren’t many of them in the first place.