Many Fresno politicians have vowed to take on slumlords and to help people living in squalid, unsafe rentals. These promises, however, largely have been unfulfilled.
So what are the odds that Mayor Ashley Swearengin, with strong support from the City Council, will make local slumlords clean up their acts – and their properties?
They are pretty good, actually, and we will explain why.
First, the Summerset Village crisis opened the door to the wretched living conditions for many impoverished families. Nonstop media coverage of families forced to live without heat, hot showers and hot meals educated other Fresnans about the grim realities of these complexes.
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The community outrage was justified and palpable. And this strong response forced embarrassed city leaders to finally confront a problem that they were handling with kid gloves.
These leaders also couldn’t dodge the fact that while Summerset Village owner Chris Henry failed to properly take care of the complex they, too, were responsible for the crisis. The state and the city have many laws on the books requiring rentals to be safe and properly maintained, but City Hall wasn’t enforcing them. And no amount of spin out of City Hall could change that fact.
Second, the slumlord “strike team” plan announced Tuesday will report directly to City Manager Bruce Rudd. This sends a clear message to the public and to the city’s code enforcement employees that Swearengin wants action. It also means that when it comes to making complex owners toe the line, the buck stops with the mayor.
This is a good thing because City Hall can no longer make excuses for failing to crack down on slumlords. The problem has been documented. Fresno has a strong-mayor form of government that empowers its chief executive to act decisively. The public rightfully expects results.
Third, the plan appears solid. As detailed by The Bee’s John Ellis, two code-enforcement officers will put together a list of problematic properties based on past violations and calls for police and fire service. That is expected to require six weeks. Then code-enforcement officers will make random unannounced inspections. Owners then will be ordered to make repairs. If they fail to do so, the city will make the fixes and bill the owners.
In addition to the humanitarian reasons for fixing these hovels, there are economic considerations. Slumlords are cancers on their neighborhoods and the entire city. Their blighted properties depress the values of surrounding homes and apartments. Fresno, with all of its glaring needs, needs a rising tax base – not an environment in which slumlords are free to go about their grubby business.
“Those negligent owners who’ve allowed their properties to deteriorate, consider yourselves on notice,” Rudd said at the unveiling of the crackdown.
City Hall is on notice, too. This plan had better work.