No More Slumlords calls for action on substandard housing in Fresno

Around 40 people held electric candles with heads bowed as the sun set Thursday night outside City Hall. It was a moment of silence for Fresno residents who live in substandard housing.

The advocacy group No More Slumlords organized the vigil, calling on city leaders to take action against negligent property owners.

The Fresno Bee investigated substandard housing in a special report in May. “Living in Misery” found that many of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents live in unhealthy and unsafe conditions.

Anna Wells, a volunteer with No More Slumlords, told the small crowd that they need to continue demanding change.

“The problem is not over,” she said. “It is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed. We need you to keep using your voice.”

Kasey Tate, 26, performed a spoken word poem detailing the types of conditions people endure. She said Fresnans need to work together to stop property owners from taking advantage of vulnerable residents.

“You either choose to help or you choose to knowingly allow these abuses,” she said. “No more excuses.”

Ashley Cortes, who founded No More Slumlords with her husband Sergio, said her goal is to keep pressure on leaders and get people excited about advocacy.

Cortes said she and her husband lived in a substandard apartment for four years. “We had roof leaks, we had an infestation of cockroaches and mice, our heater didn’t work and our A/C struggled to work in the summer,” she said.

They would call their property management company, and either no one would show up or the maintenance worker who did come wouldn’t fix the issue. That experience spurred the couple to start the housing advocacy group, once they realized they were far from alone in dealing with substandard conditions.

Esperanza Lopez, 39, spoke about her former living conditions. The mother of three said her apartment in the Lowell neighborhood was full of cockroaches that fell into her hair when she would open cabinets. Her ceiling caved in over her shower twice in the same year.

Lopez said many landlords wouldn’t rent to her because she had a prior eviction. She felt stuck.

“It’s like being a prisoner with no bars,” she said.

Lopez moved to a clean, safe apartment in November. Now, she said, she feels free.

Andrea Castillo: 559-441-6279, @andreamcastillo