Shu-Jing Cao, the legal guardian of the group of children that lives at her home at 202-12 32 Ave. in Bayside, says they are well taken-care-of.
“They call me mother,” she said. “I treat them like my own children.”
When asked, Cao did not confirm or deny that 25 children are living at the house, an allegation raised by a civic activist concerned about conditions there and their impact on the neighborhood. But there are two other adults at the property, she said, who also look after the children.
The children attend schools in District 26, one of the best and most overcrowded districts in the entire city.
“They are innocent children,” she said. “They have a right to have education in America ... They’re safe.”
Cao gave the Chronicle letters from the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Health which say that complaints about the conditions for children at the house are unsubstantiated.
The ACS letter, which is from 2015, found a complaint about suspected child maltreatment to be unfounded. The agency could not confirm the authenticity of the letter because of confidentiality laws.
The letter from the DOH, which was sent on June 28 in response to a complaint from six days earlier that a daycare program without a license was operating at her house, says that the complaint was unsubstantiated. Attached documents say that she has legal guardianship papers “from children which she does care for.” Although a number is not given, Cao says that she is the legal guardian for all of them. The agency verified the letter’s authenticity.
The children’s parents pay Cao for their living expenses, she said, and visit them when they can. Some of them work in New York and Pennsylvania, she added. Her address is not registered as a daycare center with the state.
The caretaker, who said she is 48 years old and has lived in the United States for 30 years, said she has a 23-year-old niece and a 52-year-old cousin who also live at the house and look after the children. She declined to provide the names of the two women.
“I stay with children 24 hours every day,” Cao said. “I don’t have even one day off.”
The legal guardian is also considering suing Chadney Spencer, the president of the Northwest Bayside Civic Association, who contends there are around 25 kids in the “McMansion,” for allegedly stalking her children and attempting to break into her house. She filed a complaint with the 111th Precinct about the matter on July 5.
Spencer dismissed her allegations.
“No, I did not try to break into her house,” said Spencer. He added that he had not stalked her children.
Although the city has not taken any legal action against the house, land use expert Paul Graziano doubts that Cao could be the legal guardian for all the kids living there if there actually are 25.
“No way she’s guardian of 25 kids,” Graziano said in an emailed statement. “The city wouldn’t allow it.”
The land use expert also says that it would not be legal for such a number of people to be living together in the same home.
“Three unrelated persons are allowed in each unit, children or otherwise,” he added. Although the building has two units according to its most recent Certificate of Occupancy, if 25 kids are there, more than three unrelated persons would have to be living in at least one unit. “Otherwise, they would have to get a specific Certificate of Occupancy — which they couldn’t get in a 1- or 2-family zone to begin with, like an R3X zone where this house is located — that would allow them to run a business or charity taking in multiple children for residency.”
This article originally misstated Chadney Spencer's relationship to Community Board 11. He is not a member of the board. We regret the error.