By Bonhia Lee—Oct. 5, 2017
During a packed Fresno City Council meeting in February, city leaders approved a plan to tackle substandard rental housing by implementing routine interior inspections.
The program, which includes creating a database of properties and tenant education, was proposed to start in September. But housing activists, tenants and property owners say they have heard little about the plan or what to expect once the inspections begin.
“It makes me feel unimportant because the city is taking its time,” said Virginia, a renter who asked not to be identified by her last name because she is undocumented.
Virginia, her husband and three children, ages 1 1/2 to 12, live in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment near Butler and Cedar avenues in southeast Fresno. The air conditioner has been broken for 2 1/2 years. The kitchen and bathroom sinks leak and the appliances are old. The smell of gas occasionally comes from the stove, Virginia said.
The rental act gave Virginia hope. “It was acknowledgment that we need help,” she said in Spanish. “It’s not just me. There are a lot of people and apartments that need help.”
City officials assure that the inspection program remains a top priority.
A presentation on the rental act is expected to be heard at the Oct. 12 City Council meeting. The item was postponed from the Sept. 28 session because Mayor Lee Brand and Councilmen Paul Caprioglio and Oliver Baines were in Spain learning about high-speed rail.
The city is working with Bitwise Industries on the online registry that is expected to roll out after testing is completed in a few weeks. A manager was hired and the city has started hiring and training inspectors, said Jennifer Clark, director of development and resource management.
“This is one of the mayor’s top priorities, so we’re just as anxious as the rest of our community to get the program implemented,” Clark said.
In May 2016, The Bee highlighted substandard housing in Fresno in a special report called Living in Misery. It found that units all over the city are unlivable, affecting thousands of renters, but landlords go without penalty because of the city’s lack of oversight.
The city has looked for ways to hold landlords accountable for rental units that are unsafe and unhealthy since November 2015, when 1,000 low-income tenants at Summerset Village Apartments in central Fresno went without heat and hot water for weeks.
Former Mayor Ashley Swearengin presented an inspection plan to the council before she left office, but it was Brand who had to get support from both sides of the issue and follow through with an ordinance. Brand initially struggled, but the final version got wide backing from tenant advocates and the California Apartment Association, which represents rental owners and managers.
Faith in the Valley, a grassroots organization that represents around 120 congregations in the central San Joaquin Valley said the city declined to meet with the group so organizers could get an update on the plan. The organization wants to help and is concerned about tenant education.
“We can’t wait for it to begin, we have to let folks know this is coming,” said community organizer Lety Valencia. Tenants, especially those who are undocumented, “won’t open the door.”
“The city needs to be really clear where it stands on immigration and let tenants know that code enforcement officers will look for health and safety (violations), not immigration status,” Valencia said.
Read more at the Fresno Bee.