This story was published originally July 26, 2005.
The Fresno City Council is expected to consider today the creation of a multi-agency team dedicated to the elimination of the city's chronic substandard housing.
The Anti-Slum Strike Force would focus its initial energies on apartment complexes with at least 10 units where landlords have failed to fix code violations despite repeated warnings.
The strike force's clout would come from its members' enforcement powers. These agencies would range from the city's code enforcement division and the City Attorney's Office to the Fresno County District Attorney's Office and the county Health Department.
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The strike force also would have an ombudsman.
Council Member Larry Westerlund unveiled the proposal at a news conference Monday morning, saying Fresno's serious substandard housing problems require a broad-based solution.
The aim, Westerlund said, is to "make not just another process, not just another way to look at an issue, but effectuate real, positive, solid change."
In explaining the need for the strike force, Westerlund was careful to avoid implying a failure by government agencies already charged with enforcing housing and safety codes. The strike force's commitment to coordinated action will improve the regulatory work now being done, he said.
"Everybody brings different tools or enforcement mechanisms, " Westerlund said. "... When you pool those resources and you focus those resources, I think you're going to see more results in quicker fashion."
Westerlund defined a slum as a place with serious structural damage, vermin, mold and/or filthy swimming pools. He said it is a place where residents ask their landlords for help, but "don't get phone calls returned." He said it is a place where "the basic amenities ... are not up to code."
Other highlights of the proposed strike force's agenda:
- Attempt to persuade landlords to bring their properties up to code.
- If that fails, pursue fines, civil litigation or criminal sanctions.
- Establish a community advisory group.
- Inform tenants and landlords of their rights as well as their responsibilities to maintain their apartments.
Westerlund said the strike force would have to avoid actions that have "an adverse impact on rents."
Lisa LeBlanc, administrative manager with the city's Planning and Development Department, said department employees are "already out there" enforcing the codes. She said the strike force can be a benefit if it makes the community more aware of housing issues.