Housing Blight

Living in Misery: About the project

A disaster at a central Fresno apartment complex last fall forced public attention on a problem that has beset California’s fifth-largest city for more than a century: substandard housing. Tenants of low-income apartments are the victims of landlords who collect rent but don’t maintain safe and healthy housing.

Bee reporters Barbara Anderson, Andrea Castillo and BoNhia Lee spent four months investigating Fresno’s substandard housing crisis. With photographers Silvia Flores and John Walker, the reporters went door-to-door in apartment complexes in central and southeast Fresno.

Aided by their fluency in Spanish and Hmong, they spent weeks talking to dozens of tenants, most too fearful of eviction to speak out about living with cockroaches, mice and black mold.

The reporters dug through thousands of pages of city records, including apartment fire histories, code enforcement inspections and citation appeals by property owners.

They read dozens of tenant lawsuits, studies on substandard housing and hundreds of Bee archive stories illustrating Fresno’s long history of substandard apartments.

Altogether, The Bee interviewed nearly 100 people, including city officials, local and national tenant advocates, housing and health experts, attorneys, nonprofit leaders and property owners.

The result of their work is a special report “that is both broad in scope and rich in detail about the misery these tenants live with every day,” Bee Executive Editor Jim Boren said.

“Our hope is that owners of these rental properties will clean up, fix and make right the living conditions of their renters, and that city leaders will use their powers to solve this problem in Fresno once and for all.”