This story was published originally April 13, 1998.
Twice a month, a task force of housing professionals in Fresno meets in an attempt to resolve one of the biggest issues facing the community: the decay of the central and southern parts of the city.
It is a huge problem and one that cannot be corrected easily.
The group, an official task force of the Fresno City Council, is attacking it gradually.
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The first thing the 11 members of the apartment vacancy task force will attempt to do is revive an old ordinance that gives the city more leverage against landlords who refuse to resolve problems within their apartment complexes.
From there, the vacancy task force will move onto other issues.
"To formulate a game plan would take a long time, but we decided to nibble on it and give the City Council something to chew on . . . We will come up with bite-size things with a bigger picture in mind, " said chairman Marc Wilson, who owns the property management firm San-Mar Properties in Fresno.
An interesting paradox faces the task force. Vacancies at some apartment complexes range into the double digits at a time when thousands of families seek better and more affordable housing.
Two years ago, a group of housing officials acknowledged the paradox and formed the "Phenomenon Group" to study it.
The group determined that the situation stems from economic and social factors. Bad credit history and insufficient income cause landlords to turn away prospective tenants, forcing them to live elsewhere or in substandard housing.
The result: Apartment owners don't get enough rent to keep the properties properly maintained. That, in turn, keeps responsible tenants away and a downhill spiral is created that ends in foreclosures and slums.
Now, the "Phenomenon Group" has spun off into the task force, which meets every other week. Its members acknowledge the complexity of the situation.
"It is easy for people to get overwhelmed with the immensity, " said Lynn Bowness, a division manager of the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization at City Hall.
The task force, which has met four times, consists of property managers, developers and owners.