Editorials

August 23, 2014

EDITORIAL: Swearengin fails to deliver on vow to rein in slumlords

Faith in Community, a network of about 20 churches and community groups, is using social media to spur City Hall to do something about boarded-up properties that blight Fresno and deter investment.

Faith in Community, a network of about 20 churches and community groups, is using social media to spur City Hall to do something about boarded-up properties that blight Fresno and deter investment.

For more than a month, the organization has put pictures of deteriorating properties on Twitter. Friday it tweeted a picture of a house that with tender loving care could become "home" for a family. The message with it: "Day/Pic 33. Hope the City will take action soon 2 address 100s of boarded-up/blighted props throughout south Fresno!"

While we applaud Faith in Community for tackling the problem, it should not have come to this. In 2008, when Ashley Swearengin campaigned for her first term as mayor, she vowed that she would force slumlords to comply with the law.

Compliance means providing safe and clean properties for renters. It also means repairing blighted foreclosure properties bought at auction and actively marketing them for sale or as rentals.

According to Faith in Community, one property owner, JD Homes, owns 3,500 to 4,000 units, of which 30% to 40% are unoccupied. Faith in Community leaders also say that many south Fresno residents rate boarded-up unoccupied properties as greater threats to their neighborhoods than gangs.

We understand that Swearengin has had to focus much of her attention on municipal budget problems triggered by the Great Recession. We understand, too, that government often moves slowly because it's difficult to reach political consensus among leaders. But she took office vowing to address a serious concern that drains resources, triggers urban flight and lowers property values. Thus far, she is batting zero on reining in the slumlords and speculators who care only about turning a buck.

The shame of it is, City Hall has ample tools to force irresponsible owners to get their properties ship-shape.

For example, the Fresno Municipal Code empowers the city to require owners of vacant properties to submit plans for proper care. Property owners who don't comply can be hit with fines starting at $1,000 for the first citation and escalating to $7,500 for the third and subsequent citations.

Assembly Bill 2314, which became law last year, enabled local governments to impose fines of up to $1,000 a day for code violations that are not corrected after 30 days. Perhaps somebody at City Hall should acquaint themselves with this legislation.

Swearengin cites a strong record as Fresno mayor as reason for voters to elect her state controller in November. But her record on staring down our city's notorious slumlords is a weak one.

 

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