Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, says Fresno landlords who repeatedly violate health and safety standards should have to live in their worst rentals until repairs are made.
The Fresno Bee’s investigation, “Living in Misery,” found many of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents live in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. Mahony detailed his thoughts on substandard housing in a letter to The Bee after reading the report.
Mahony said he ran into the same housing issues uncovered in The Bee’s investigation when he was director of Catholic Charities in Fresno from 1962-80.
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“We kept running into the same obstacle: no efforts forced the landlords to be held accountable and to make all of the necessary repairs to restore a healthy and safe dwelling,” he wrote.
Mahony said noncompliance continues because there are no swift penalties for those who violate housing standards. He suggested some solutions:
▪ Landlords should not be permitted to collect rent from residents living in squalor.
▪ A new system of administrative law judges should be created to deal with all rental issues.
▪ Landlords who fail to make improvements quickly should face heavy financial penalties.
“I pray that our political leaders will take swift and effective steps to right a terribly unjust wrong, and to help our poorest families with the most basic of human rights – a decent, safe and clean place to live,” he said.
Fresno leaders started responding to housing issues after 1,000 low-income residents lived for a month without heat or hot water at Summerset Village Apartments in central Fresno last November.
Following that crisis, the city initiated a strike force that uses a combination of fire, police and code enforcement service data to target certain complexes around the city. The city filed its first civil suit against the owner of a substandard property in March.
A city-led Code Enforcement Task Force is developing a program for systematic interior inspections of rental units. The task force created a Vacant Blighted Building Ordinance last June, requiring owners to register properties vacant for more than 30 days.
We kept running into the same obstacle: no efforts forced the landlords to be held accountable.
Cardinal Roger Mahony
The City Council in December adopted an ordinance allowing the city to place properties with severe code violations into receivership. The city can ask to have a court-appointed person or company take control of the property and fix it up using its rent and income.