Interview with Mayoral Candidate Part 2
Our community correspondent, Kathy Ayala, had the pleasure of interviewing Fresno’s mayoral candidates in order to find out what they are planning on doing to stop slumlords in Fresno if they are elected mayor. Both Council Member Lee Brand and Supervisor Henry Perea took time out of their schedule to answer our questions. In this article we focus on Supervisor Henry Perea.
Who is Supervisor Henry Perea?
Fresno County Supervisor
Former Reserve Police Officer
Former Board of Education Member
Former Fresno City Council Member
Candidate for Mayor
Father and Grandfather
“Henry was born and raised in Fresno, California and graduated from San Joaquin Memorial High School. He received his bachelor’s from Fresno State and a Masters of Public Administration from USC. He is the proud father of Henry T. Perea, Annalisa Perea and Thomas Perea.” – Excerpt from Perea for Mayor website
Q: Why are you running for Mayor?
A: I think one theme I try to put forward is I think there’s a lot of good things in Fresno. I think a lot of that is the people — the people that we have here. But I see it as an opportunity to take the city to the next level and I think the next level is the city being the fifth largest city in California, behaving like the fifth largest city in California. So reaching out, being functioning more as a regional capital of the valley, having stronger connections with Sacramento and Washington DC. I think we owe more to our next generations, just as our parents did for us. So now for my kids and grandkids and everybody else’s kids and grandkids, I think as a mayor, I’m positioned to bring jobs.
Q: What is your definition of a slumlord?
A: Well I think a slumlord is someone who owns property, whether it’s an apartment unit or housing unit that is not kept up to standards and of course the standards would be those — the health and safety type standards in the home that would give someone a quality of life within that unit. So slumlords is someone, who in my mind doesn’t care whether he has a quality unit or not, more interested in the rent that he generates from that person. Obviously he has a negative impact on the families that are in those homes but also, I think he or she provides a negative impact on the neighborhood that slum is in — that apartment or house is in, because, I think at some point residents start to see that unit or units in their neighborhood that are just in bad disrepair, then they move out, and then they become slums too. So it becomes a cycle that I think we need to break.
Q: Ever since the Summerset Village Apartment crisis happened, the conversation about slumlords have been in the spotlight. Do you think that Fresno has a slumlord problem that needs to be addressed?
A: There is no question it’s a problem and Summerset, I think was maybe the poster child for that issue but I think there’s a lot of Summersets around this city that we need to deal with and deal with immediately. Which is why I’ve been watching this task force at the City and I see that they’re starting to hit a lot of roadblocks now but I think it’s hitting roadblocks because there’s certain city council members who are representing a certain part of the industry that don’t want to see any change. I know that the mayor is trying to get something done but I just don’t really see anything happening before the end of the year that’s going to be effective or have any effect on the issue.
Q: Our group has talked to families that live in slum housing, community leaders, property owners, teachers, health officials, firefighters and police offices, and many more individuals from the community and they have all expressed their frustration with the City of Fresno. They mention that the City of Fresno is lax and soft on slumlords. Do you agree with this assessment?
A: Well I would agree, and all you’d have to do is take a look at what’s happening or more better yet, what’s not happening. And when you see Summerset happening then you form a task force. I don’t have anything against task forces where it makes sense. But to me this is a common sense issue, you don’t need a task force for eight months or nine months or a year. Talk about a problem that you know, one exists, and two what the solutions are. I think what you need is action. In my mind I think there’s enough codes on the books, there’s probably some minor things that need to change but I think you need a program where one you beef up code enforcement teams and you empower them to go out immediately to impact those people that we all know are slumlords and start and immediate mandatory inspection program of them. And it’s not just a mandatory inspection program of housing units that people live in now, but also require that before they rent a unit, it has to pass inspection before it can be rented out.
I should just say one more thing, my focus would be on a mandatory inspection program of the visual that I have created in my campaign, The Dirty Dozen. I think you go after slumlords first, I think that has the greatest impact. I think a program that some have talked about, a mandatory program citywide, I think that’s not the best use of resources because I don’t think you’ll ever have enough code enforcement officers and other folks that are available to go inspect 80,000 units, I think you filter your efforts and you lose focus. I think you focus on the worst of the worst and the message gets out pretty strong.
Q: Why do you believe this issue has existed for such a long time?
A: Well I mean, I always go back to a leader having a vision — in this case the mayor has a vision of what they think is the most important things for a city to be or to do. And you execute your vision by allocating your budget to it, so clearly to me at some point in the last 10 years or so, the city has decided that it’s more important to spend their money on other things other than quality of life issues. Like your parks, like dealing with slumlords, like making sure your freeways are clean. I mean, you know, the city in my mind has dropped the ball on those basic quality of life things that we should all just count on happening but we haven’t so we’ve let the city slip too far. And when you come to slumlords we just let them really run rampant in this city. Let them make their maximum profits at the expense of people who can’t afford to just get up and move.
Q: Our group has observed that repeat violators suffer no real consequences for their actions. For years code enforcement policy has been to hand out courtesy notices or give courtesy calls for repeat offenders. There is no fine, no citation for repeat offenders. These repeat offenders have no incentive to change. What are your thoughts on this policy?
A: Well I think the city has to be more aggressive, number one. Ok maybe when you first go out and find violations, you give a notice that has attached to it all the violations that are found and a timeframe to get them repaired, and I think 30 days is more than reasonable. I think if someone’s not complying when you come back and reinspect then I think you go into immediate enforcement. And that enforcement goes into fines, and I know there’s a recent state law in the last couple of years that give cities a pretty good hammer in coming after slumlords. I think they [could] start implementing and executing those laws but the key is following through. I think what these folks understand is the economic side of the equation. Because obviously they’re maximizing the monies they make off these people because they’re not maintaining their units. Well reverse that, is hit them in the pocketbook. And when they’re not making their repairs then you fine them pretty heavily.
When I was on the city council I had a slumlord of the month certificate that I handed out. And the first recipient was JD rentals and of course he didn’t come to get his certificate but I was trying to make a point. You know, if you’re going to be that bad, then we’re going to recognize you for it in the city. That’s just how strongly I feel about slumlords and people taking advantage of people.
But the underlying answer to your question is, too many times people have gotten citations and warnings and at some point it’s like when you discipline a child — if you don’t follow through on the discipline, they say ‘Oh I guess it’s OK for me to keep doing this.’ And I think slumlords have gotten to that point. They know they can do whatever they want in the City of Fresno.
Q: As mayor how would you specifically address Fresno’s slumlords? You did talk about the Dirty Dozen, is there anything else you’d like to add to that?
A: Well just so that I’m clear I would focus on this visual of this Dirty Dozen — I’m sure there’s more but the point is that I would start an immediate inspection program of their units for those that have people living in them now and before they could rent. I would make an inspection a requirement before they could be allowed to rent. I would probably use that Housing Authority model. You know how they use the inspection for Section 8, I think people already invented that wheel so I don’t need to reinvent it. I think we just need to apply it and be consistent in it. So I would make that a requirement. And then just immediate enforcement. Making sure the inspectors have the proper tools, so that they go out and they can in real-time inspect what’s wrong and — let me just get a little more technical — and have iPads so that they have all this information that immediately goes into a system that then the follow-up is immediate. And then there’s holding the people accountable, number one. And when they’re fined, that they pay their fines. I’m not interested in waiving fines. I think that’s how at some point you get people’s attention.
Q: Are there any additional comments that you’d like to add?
A: Just that I hope people take me seriously in what I’m saying. I’ve been messaging on this very strongly in the primary. And I think the louder my voice gets on it, I think people are going to understand that once I get there we’re going to take care of business.
To learn more about Henry Perea and his campaign for Mayor, visit his website.