Antoinette Castañeda and her fiancé, Michael Baldwin, moved into their new home Monday – a clean and safe three-bedroom house – after living in a rundown Fresno motel for six months.
“I am so blessed,” Castañeda said Tuesday. “I am so glad to be done with that place.”
That place is Hotel California, near Roeding Park at 530 N. Weber Ave., which city officials shut down Monday morning. Residents lived for more than a year without working heat and other issues before the city forced the owner to make repairs.
Last week, officials discovered the motel’s faulty electrical system was a fire hazard. They vowed to help desperate residents find permanent housing and to begin enforcing city codes against other motels with substandard conditions that house long-term tenants.
City officials convened a group of housing agencies and advocates, called the Housing Response Partnership, to help Hotel California residents and those of motels affected by the city’s enforcement in the future.
After the power to Hotel California was shut down at 9 a.m. Monday, agencies including the Poverello House and Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission helped people transport their belongings to new locations.
The Housing Authority was the lead coordinating agency. Communications manager Brandi Johnson said that of the 32 households, six found their own housing, 20 signed leases and either already moved or will soon move, and the other six did not show up to verify their paperwork for permanent housing. Residents stayed temporarily at Poverello House, a nonprofit in downtown Fresno that serves the homeless, and some remain there.
Landlords including Regency Property Management, where Castañeda found a rental, helped residents reduce or manage payment of a deposit so they could quickly move.
Kumar Sharma of Los Angeles County and his wife have owned the 49-unit Hotel California since September 2015. Sharma has contractors working to repair the electrical system and finish fixing the heat and other problems so he can reopen the motel. He doesn’t know how long it could take.
Most residents qualified for low-income housing assistance. But it’s Sharma’s responsibility to pay for their relocation. Residents said he offered only some people checks of varying amounts. Sharma hung up on a reporter when asked about that.
Castañeda said she lived at the motel because her identity was stolen, which ruined her credit. She has been represented by Central California Legal Services for wrongful eviction after Sharma gave her an eviction notice in September.
Advocates set up a fundraiser on the website GoFundMe to help pay for storage units while residents find permanent housing, home furnishings and food.
On Tuesday, a few residents were seen moving their remaining possessions out of the motel while a couple of workers repaired one of the units. Dumpsters overflowed with things like TVs, baby strollers and pillows. All of the city’s red “DO NOT ENTER” notices had been removed.