A fresh coat of gray paint, new siding and an interior overhaul with granite countertops and tile floors are transforming a once decrepit six-unit apartment building near the Fresno Fairgrounds into clean and safe homes.
Ten months ago, the property at 1039 S. Boyd Ave., near Chance Avenue, was riddled with code violations. Doors were missing, the second-floor walkway was falling down, electricity was cut to half the building, and sewer pipes were clogged.
It’s a story played over and over at multifamily properties across Fresno, where owner neglect has led to unhealthy and unsafe living conditions. But some owners and managers, including nonprofit developers, are stepping in to fix up, build and maintain quality apartments.
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“If I wouldn’t live there, I wouldn’t expect a tenant to live there,” said Brad Hardie, owner of Regency Property Management, which was hired by the new owner of the Boyd Avenue property.
“Now if everybody had that standard, we’d be a great city.”
Providing quality housing
When Regency took over the property management, apartment walls had holes, carpet was missing and windows were broken. Confusion over who had owned the property and who was responsible for maintenance left tenants in the dark about who to call for help.
“It was terrible,” said Leshell Jackson, who has lived at the complex for more than a year. “We had to remodel our own apartment. There was no door to the bedroom. We had no electricity.”
Jackson had been using an extension cord to borrow power from a downstairs neighbor so she could operate her nebulizer, which she needs to administer her medicine four times a day.
If I wouldn’t live there, I wouldn’t expect a tenant to live there. Now if everybody had that standard, we’d be a great city.
Brad Hardie, president, Regency Property Management
More than $63,000 has been spent on renovations at the Boyd Avenue property. Still to come is another coat of exterior paint, landscaping, an iron fence and a security gate. Hardie’s company installed new cabinets, appliances, baseboard and tile instead of carpet – typical renovations for Regency properties. The monthly rent is $650 for a two-bedroom apartment.
“There’s no reason why I wouldn’t live in that unit – it’s clean, has new tile, the counters are nice,” Hardie said. “That’s the kind of standard we have for all of our vacant homes.”
Hardie bought Regency Properties in 2009, and since then, the company has expanded from managing 600 apartments and houses to managing more than 4,000. He owns a couple dozen properties himself.
Hardie started the Lowell and Yokomi neighborhood property management association, now chaired by Bryce Hovannisian of JD Home Rentals, to bring the area’s biggest multifamily players together to clean up and maintain properties. He sits on the code enforcement task force created by Mayor Ashley Swearengin in 2014.
“You sleep better at night,” said Hardie, who was among the first in Fresno to buy electric blankets and space heaters for Summerset Village Apartments residents when gas lines were shut off in November. Hardie has since been hired by Summerset property owner Chris Henry to manage the complex.
The key to providing quality housing is knowing what is happening on site, Hardie said.
Regency conducts exterior inspections of its properties every three to four weeks and checks interiors up to twice a year, depending on the size of an apartment complex. The interior inspections typically happen when air filters are changed and smoke detectors are checked, Hardie said. Regency’s vendors also are trained to notify company managers and to send them photos of problems they see, such as holes in walls.
Bad properties axed
The newly painted Cedar Courts, a 149-unit complex with water-wise landscaping and mulch, outshines the other drab-looking apartments that line two blocks of the southeast Fresno neighborhood at Chance and Hamilton avenues.
The 62-year-old development was part of the Fresno Housing Authority’s $40 million makeover of aging public housing units in 2014 under the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The authority also distributes Housing Choice Vouchers, formerly known as Section 8, to help low-income families pay rent for an apartment or a single-family house in the private sector.
Renovations completed last summer at Cedar Courts included new laminate wood floors, upgraded kitchens, new heating and cooling systems and the addition of a second bathroom for some of the larger units. A community building and a play area also were built.
10Number of Housing Authority inspectors who conduct move-in, annual and complaint inspections
“All of the apartments are much nicer than before,” Martha Ayala said in Spanish. Ayala has lived at Cedar Courts for 10 years with her mother, Vicenta Suarez, and a daughter. “Now, we have a recreation area and a back yard where we can make carne asada. We have an office that is pretty and comfortable.”
While the authority is responsible for maintaining its own properties like Cedar Court, families with a housing voucher are at the mercy of private landlords for apartment maintenance and repairs.
All units occupied by residents with vouchers are subject to annual inspections by the Housing Authority. The agency has 10 inspectors who conduct move-in, annual and complaint inspections, looking for tripping hazards and making sure electrical outlets work and all four burners of a stove light up.
“About 40 percent of our inspections fail,” executive director Preston Prince said of the housing voucher program properties.
When Swearengin started her code enforcement task force at the end of 2014, the Housing Authority made it a priority to focus on property oversight by landlords. A disturbing pattern of inconsistent maintenance had started to pop up, and officials realized that apartments occupied by rent-assisted tenants were held to higher maintenance standards than neighboring units.
The Housing Authority’s goal in 2015 was “to actually say the overall property mattered, not just the particular unit,” Prince said.
By the end of 2015, the authority had excluded from the voucher program two properties, a 60-unit complex on East Huntington Boulevard in southeast Fresno and a 24-unit complex on East Pontiac Way in central Fresno. A third property also had been identified for exclusion, but the Los Angeles-based owner worked with the authority to make repairs to the entire property, authority officials said.
We want as many landlords as possible to participate in the program, but we don’t want to support landlords who are providing substandard housing to the broader community.
Preston Prince, executive director, Fresno Housing Authority
“We want as many landlords as possible to participate in the program, but we don’t want to support landlords who are providing substandard housing to the broader community,” Prince said.
The Cesar Chavez Foundation made a bold move last year by changing its interior apartment inspection schedule from once a year to every six months and now to every quarter.
The nonprofit, known for its work in the farmworker movement, is also an affordable housing developer with four apartment communities in Fresno and others spread across four states.
It plans to build a 134-unit mixed senior and multifamily complex on 5 acres at Kings Canyon Road and Willow Avenue in southeast Fresno.
Staying on top of housing problems is a priority, officials say.
“We switched to quarterly (inspections) because it helps us catch things faster,” said Becky Sitton, the foundation’s senior regional property supervisor in Fresno.
Safety inspections of all apartments are conducted to keep on top of maintenance issues that start small but could grow bigger and more expensive to fix later, Sitton said. It’s also an opportunity to check for water leaks and to educate tenants that it’s OK to report issues, she said. Too often, tenants are afraid to report leaks in kitchen sinks or other problems because they think their rent will go up.
The quarterly inspections have been a success.
We have fewer work orders, and people are taking care of their units.
Becky Sitton, Cesar Chavez Foundation
“We have fewer work orders, and people are taking care of their units,” Sitton said.
The foundation takes pride in building quality, affordable housing complexes and renovating them every 15 years to provide a high standard of living with on-site programs for residents, said Alfredo Izmajtovich, executive vice president of the foundation’s Housing and Economic Development Fund.
Plaza Mendoza at 1725 N. Marks Ave., west of Highway 99, underwent a $4.6 million renovation at the end of 2014 with upgraded kitchens, new double-pane windows, energy-efficient appliances, drought-tolerant landscaping and drip irrigation. On a recent afternoon, children played on newly installed play equipment and attended an after-school program in the new Si Se Puede community center.
All of the foundation’s future apartment renovations will include a community center for children’s activities and tenant events such as dental clinics and health fairs.
“We’re a long-term owner,” Izmajtovich said. “We invest into our own properties … (to be) a positive asset for our communities.”