By Kathy Ayala
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by No More Slumlords at http://nomoreslumlords.org
In an area that is quickly becoming a desirable neighborhood for young professionals to live, eat, and play, others have called it home for many years.
Linda McDaniel is one of them – she is a long-time tenant of a one bedroom, one bath apartment in a block tucked away from the downtown Fresno revitalization boom. Her apartment is a stone’s throw away from the Cultural Arts District, the Fulton Mall, and the Tower District.
In comparison to other upgraded and new apartment units nearby, McDaniel’s unit has lacked some of the basic necessities such as hot water, heating, cooling, and cupboard doors.
The place she has known as home for the past six years sits on the top floor of a pale colored two-story building and she shares her one-bedroom apartment with three other family members and her pets.
The building is neglected and neighbors agree that it has become a nuisance and an eyesore.
Although the unit is her home, she said she feels trapped in her situation and has had negative experiences since the time she moved in.
McDaniel has communicated with her landlord Binh Soudachanh about recurring issues she’s had but her requests for maintenance have been overlooked and are not taken care of in a timely manner.
“When are they gonna get to it? He picked up everybody else’s apartment but mine. He says, ‘I’ll get to yours.” McDaniel said. “Well, the problem is, when are you going to get to mine?”
McDaniel’s electric stove has not been in working condition. Three of the four burners do not function and there are times when the one working burner will spark.
“You try cooking a meal on one burner,” McDaniel said frustrated.
In the month prior to our visit, the landlord attempted to fix the leaky kitchen and bathroom sinks but the issue persisted. The missing cabinet doors and drawers were overlooked and left as is.
The bathroom cabinet has rotten wood and missing doors and drawers, the ceiling shows signs of previous repairs and of water damage. The bathroom door is also missing hinges and is placed in front of the door frame.
McDaniel’s kitchen counter is also rotting and has exposed mold surrounding the sink. Her cabinets have missing doors and drawers as well.
McDaniel’s situation is complex. Her payee, American Payee, manages her money and finances. The company makes sure her rent is paid on time. However, McDaniel’s situation is complicated since she does not have control over her own money and does not have the freedom to gather her belongings and leave without American Payee getting involved.
In the past, McDaniel has made multiple requests to have the rent money held until issues in her unit have been resolved, yet the company continues to pay.
According to Soudachanh, her “money is good,” said McDaniel since payment is made in full and on time every month guaranteeing him funds.
The building on Yosemite Avenue is considered the black sheep of the block by neighbors. Homes surrounding the building are a reminder of Fresno’s history and are well maintained aesthetically.
Across the street is the Evangel Home, a non-profit organization which shelters women and children in crisis situations and offers a safe place of refuge.
Gerre Brenneman, Executive Director of the Evangel Home, said the property across the street has been an issue for approximately 10 years.
The unkempt building has attracted what seem to be squatters, according to Brenneman. “The way it’s not maintained and the strangers that seem to come all hours of the night and day, we know what’s going on over there,” Brenneman said. Without the problematic building, the block would be a sound street, she explained.
“Without that unit, it’s a pretty good street. Everyone else is maintaining, trying to be neighbors. There’s a sense of neighborhood there except that unit,” Brenneman added.
But the lack of outside maintenance isn’t the only concern for neighbors including the Evangel Home. The issue, one that has existed for numerous years, has also brought crime to the area.
Neighbors have grown exasperated by the noise and drug trafficking that is known to exist at all hours of the day and night.
“Everything you could imagine that you don’t want to live next to goes on there,” Brenneman said.
The city has been notified of the issues with the tenants in the past however the trouble continues.
“It has been a problem for us for a long time, often in the tenants that are there. That’s been a problem for us, too. The tenants or the squatters,” Brenneman said. “It’s not all the fact that he is a slumlord, it’s the fact that he is not paying attention to who is in there — which is part of the problem.”
She added, “It is not all the property, it’s who he lets in there or he doesn’t pay attention to who is living there, whether they are tenants or not.”
Brenneman said she has spoken with the owner and has communicated with him about the issues the property is causing in the neighborhood. They have tried to be understanding and have given him time to repair the property and clean it up but in the end, things have seemed to worsen.
Brenneman brought up another important issue regarding property owners. Out-of-town investors such as the property owner, Soudachanh, who is known to live in the Bay Area, in or around San Jose.
“I think that’s part of one of the dynamics in this whole issue, is out-of-town people who think they’re gonna get something in Fresno and make big bucks,” Brenneman said.
A disconnect exists between tenants and owners which in turn can and will create neglected properties; properties where families make their homes. Many times the attitudes by owners are depictive of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” and notions of procrastination. This demeanor has an effect on tenants as their issues are overlooked and not addressed in a timely fashion.
That is the case of McDaniel where her property owner repeatedly has said he will get to her unit “later” yet maintains her as a tenant since her money is “good.”
The tenant’s experience is of importance when living in substandard housing conditions, as is the experience of the neighborhood.
“It’s not just affecting the people who live there, but the people who live around it. It’s a very double-edged sword he has here,” Brenneman said. “We’re trying to have a place of peace and refuge for women and when the stuff that happens over there frequently, no one has any peace.”
Kathy Ayala likes to be productive within her community through her work in education and as a freelance writer. As a writer she hopes that the stories she shares will push for change and raise awareness within the community and for our elected officials. She wants to be able to give a voice to the voiceless and strive for change.