The cost of run-down apartment buildings in Fresno hits everybody’s wallets – even if you don’t live next to one.
Substandard apartments drive away outside investment in the community, strain the city budget and reduce property values, say experts in housing, planning and development.
The effect of substandard housing on property development and investment in a city is widespread, said Fresno housing expert Robin Kane with Berkadia Real Estate Advisors.
Fresnans who think substandard housing in south and central Fresno doesn’t affect property values in affluent north Fresno are kidding themselves, Kane said.
“No matter how nice it is in the north end, you’re still having to be judged from the outside of the community,” he said. “The smart guys will judge you by how you handle the poorer areas because they see your ability to maintain the health of the community.”
The smart guys will judge you by how you handle the poorer areas because they see your ability to maintain the health of the community.
Robin Kane, Fresno housing expert
Taxpayers foot the bill for higher police, code enforcement and fire protection services associated with substandard housing. At the same time, property values decrease, which trims the tax base that pays for the services, said Alan Mallach, senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, a national organization that focuses on vacant and substandard housing and its effects on cities.
In fiscal 2016, Fresno will spend nearly $5 million on code enforcement for nuisance calls about abandoned cars and trash heaps, zoning issues and housing violations, both at single-family and multifamily dwellings. It expects to recoup less than $1.7 million in fines.
Jennifer Clark, who oversees code enforcement for Fresno, said the cost-benefits of the services are hard to measure.
“Code enforcement is a general government service,” she said. “Like fire and police, it’s not intended to either make money or necessarily break even.”
Janine Nkosi, a Fresno State sociology professor and a member of Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s code enforcement task force, has looked at the cost to Fresno for fighting fires in vacant buildings. Using figures from the Fresno Fire Department, she found that fires at 91 properties in 2014 cost the city an estimated $341,500.
And the cost of fighting the fires is just one liability that Nkosi said the city has to consider. “These firefighters are having to go in and put these fires out, and these firefighters are at risk. And the people next door are at risk.”
Fighting fires at 91 vacant properties in 2014 cost Fresno an estimated $341,500.
Nkosi also has reviewed a 2013 report on the cost of blight in 41 central Pennsylvania communities and a 2005 nationwide report by the National Vacant Properties Campaign.
“They’re talking about millions of dollars being drained out of the cities’ budgets,” she said.
The Pennsylvania report, for example, found that the overall economic effects of blight and vacant properties was more than $19.3 million in direct costs and an estimated loss of $218 million to $247 million in property value. The 41 communities studied had a combined population of 285,000, a total of 20,077 vacant lots, and 7,158 lots with poor or unsound structures.
The 2005 study by the National Vacant Properties Campaign noted how Philadelphia researchers found homes within 150 feet of a vacant or abandoned property had a net loss of $7,626 in value; those within 300 feet lost $6,819; and those within 450 feet had a loss of $3,542.
Nkosi said she was unable to gather information from Fresno to do comparable studies of the economic cost of property value losses from vacant buildings.
Fresno leaders are aware of the effect of distressed neighborhoods on the city’s economic health and on the quality of life.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer believes in the broken-windows theory: If a small problem such as a broken window is not addressed, other bigger problems will soon follow.
The Police Department’s graffiti abatement team responds to tagging for that reason, he said. But patrol officers don’t have time to drive around neighborhoods looking for code violations, he said. “They are responding call to call, and there are always calls waiting.”
Swearengin said revitalizing Fresno’s blighted neighborhoods is in everyone’s best interest.
“You really ought to care what’s happening there because over time it will affect either positively or negatively your property value, your kids’ schools and the things you see happening in your neighborhood,” she said.
Mallach said quality housing is good for everybody.
“You never know when you might be the somebody who needs to find rental housing,” he said. “It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of people living in four-bedroom, three-bathroom houses found themselves on the street when they couldn’t make the payments on their mortgages.”