The city’s new war against housing blight scored its first victory when one of the worst apartment complexes in Fresno, taken over from a slumlord, was repaired from top to bottom and put on the market for sale.
Housing blight in Fresno has been an ongoing problem for decades as highlighted last year in The Bee’s award-winning “Living in Misery” investigative series.
The rehabilitated apartment complex marks a “new era in code enforcement efforts,” the city said in a statement.
There’s no denying that the 13-unit apartment complex at East Olive and Jackson avenues in east-central Fresno is looking spiffy compared to how it looked a year ago.
But those who lived there when it was a dump – one resident heated the unit by turning on the oven – might not be able to afford the new rents, and there’s no city requirement that fixed-up units be priced for low-income families.
Early last year, the city found water leaks, roaches, mice, missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, roofs in need of repair, and other problems.
The city went to court to have the property, owned by Guadalupe Fernandez of Tulare, put into receivership. The receiver borrowed money from a bank and made about $257,000 in repairs and covered other expenses.
Now there are new doors, locks, windows, carpet, refrigerators, water heaters, counters, paint and repaired roofs.
Mayor takes a tour
Mayor Lee Brand on Wednesday toured the two buildings that make up the complex and liked what he saw.
“It’s a step in the right direction for the city of Fresno,” he said. “We will not tolerate substandard housing in the city.”
The city will keep taking over slum properties via receivership and get them into shape for sale, he said.
“When we get to the point where we have an owner who does not cooperate and does not pay their fines – and most importantly doesn’t make the necessary corrections to make the units liveable – this is our final tool, receivership,” he said.
Assistant city attorney Felicia Espinoza estimated that rents would be between $750 to $850 for the one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Brand, a former property manager, said a family in which two people are working minimum wage jobs should be able to afford that.
“I can’t control what landlords are going to rent, I can try to get more housing up that will balance the supply and demand,” he said.
The problem isn’t high rents, it’s low wages, he said.
“We need to develop more jobs in Fresno, more decent-paying jobs,” he said.
It’s possible that the Fresno Housing Authority could assist with rental subsidies, but the property owner must sign a contract, renters pay 30 percent of their adjusted income and the housing authority pays up to a certain amount, said spokeswoman Brandi Johnson.
A motion to sell the complex, which is currently unoccupied except for a caretaker, will be heard Aug. 15 in Fresno County Superior Court. It’s on the market for $701,000, but higher bids are expected.
Seeking more help
Andy Levine, executive director of Faith in Fresno, a social justice advocacy group, gave the city credit for getting the apartment units under the control of a receiver and repaired. But one or two buildings at a time won’t solve the city’s substandard housing issue, he said.
“What’s the plan to speed it up?” Levine said.
He also said he’s concerned that those living in housing that’s placed into a receiver control will be forced out.
Attorney Riley Walter, representing receiver Terence Long of Fresno, said tenants at the Olive and Jackson apartments left voluntarily.
All 13 units were occupied, but “only five were paying rent,” he said. It appears that one tenant had not paid rent for four years, he said.
When the receiver took over, the construction company removed eight large garbage bins of trash and debris, including 40 mattresses, he said.
Under the law, the receiver borrows money, repairs the property and then sells it, Walter said. The money covers the costs, including city fines and lawyer fees. Anything left over goes to the original property owner, he said.
Esther Delahay, a housing advocate in the Lowell neighborhood, agreed that there’s a limit to the receivership option.
“It’s a tool in the toolbox,” she said. “Receivership is not going to work across the board for every slumlord.”
Meanwhile, city officials said they are compiling a list of problem properties and this week received court approval to have two other properties placed into receivership.