Finally, more than one year after hundreds of tenants at Summerset Village Apartments first went without hot water and heat in their units, a concrete proposal has been authored by two members of the Fresno City Council aimed at eliminating substandard housing.
This represents progress in that many ideas have been floated, debated and rejected since the City Council declared a state of emergency at Summerset on Nov. 30, 2015.
Unfortunately, the two initiatives authored by Council Members Steve Brandau and Clint Olivier, with input from the City Attorney’s Office, fall short of being what Brandau called “the solution to the city of Fresno’s slum housing problem.”
Their request for the creation of a Landlord-Tenant Ombudsman is imaginative and commendable. However, their other initiative, the creation of an Anti-Slumlord Enforcement Team, appears to be little more than an expansion of current efforts.
City Manager Bruce Rudd has spearheaded efforts to crack down on slumlords and improve living conditions for some of Fresno’s most vulnerable and impoverished residents. He told The Bee’s Andrea Castillo that no matter how many staff are added, the approach is time-consuming, and not an effective way to address such a big problem.
“This doesn’t replace a mandatory inspection program,” Rudd said. “It doesn’t even come close. It creates a distraction, if anything.”
Other cities have found ways to successfully deal with slumlords and reduce blight in neighborhoods, thus elevating living conditions and increasing the values of well-maintained properties next to or near substandard housing. Two key elements in such programs are registering rental properties and requiring inspections.
All rentals should be registered. This is the best way for code enforcement to get a handle on illegal apartment conversions, which pose dangers for tenants, police officers and firefighters. Imagine being a police officer or a firefighter who opens the door to what appears to be an office or warehouse and instead finds a maze of apartments inside.
On the matter of mandatory inspections, it makes sense to exclude complexes that are less than 15 years old. It also makes sense to reward responsible apartment owners by phasing out inspections and focusing taxpayer dollars on problem owners and their units.
Brandau and Olivier appear resistant to the registry and mandatory inspections. We are not sure why. However, the entire City Council, which will take up their proposal at Thursday’s meeting, will have input. And Mayor Ashley Swearengin says that she will weigh in with a plan before she terms out of office.
It will be interesting to see Mayor-elect Lee’s Brand’s reaction and suggestions. He represents northeast Fresno on the City Council and is a partner in Westco Property Management, which manages many large apartment complexes.
Brand told Castillo that the Brandau-Olivier ideas are a big step in the right direction. He also said some additional changes are needed, including consolidating the municipal housing code into one section, updating outdated software to track cases and creating a tenant-education program.
Asked about Swearengin’s proposal, he said, “I’ll wait and see what she brings, but with what we have here and a few other changes, it would make a huge difference.”
We remind all involved that the large swaths of substandard housing are dangerous, inhumane and a drain on the General Fund, which funds vital city services. Failing to attack the problem with a rigorous plan, as Fresno leaders have done for more than a century, is not an option.