Moving to the South of France
Where I was living was like a war torn, godforsaken place where constant conflict is the norm–the kind you see on a telethon. Where I am now is like one of those amazing vacation resort locales, the kind you see on TV–the places you dream of going to but you know it’s out of your reach. – Esperanza
This is how Esperanza, downtown community member and devoted mother of three, articulated her recent experience of moving out of a neglected rental property in the Lowell neighborhood and into a newer, fully functioning unit down the street. For Esperanza, this move was much more than a change of address–it was a milestone that has empowered her to keep thriving despite life’s obstacles.
When Esperanza found herself living on N. Yosemite Ave., it was her first time living independently in her life. She paid rent on time, kept food in the refrigerator, and kept clothes clean. In turn, this apartment became Esperanza’s trophy, encapsulating her strength and self-reliance. Because of her reliability, she eventually became the on-site manager of the property. However, it soon became clear that the property was the least of the out-of-town owner’s concerns. She told me countless stories of careless and absentee management by the owner–stories about collapsing ceilings, dangerous broken exterior doors, cockroach infestations, police presence, and trash strewn about the property, among other things.
The owner’s disregard for the property translated to the tenants themselves. Esperanza expressed that living there was embarrassing, that she felt ashamed of where she lived, and that it was depressing to live in such conditions. Ultimately, N. Yosemite Ave. was not a place where she could thrive.
Esperanza mentioned that even her kids wouldn’t want to visit her there.
As a true testament to Esperanza’s strong and persistent character, she decided that enough was enough. After much perseverance and a couple miracles, she moved into a newer, better-managed unit down the street. The move was a world of difference not just in the physical state of the property but in her own self-esteem and happiness. In short, she said it was “like leaving Beirut and moving to the South of France.” Things like working lights and appliances, an on-site washer and drier (she previously had to walk 2 miles round trip to do laundry), a sense of safety from a functioning gate, and even a doorbell in her new place have replaced shame and sadness with joy and pride in where she is now.
For the first time in a long time, all three of Esperanza’s children will stay with her in her new home.
Stories like Esperanza’s show the connection between safe, quality, dignifying housing and a person’s ability to thrive in the way God intended them to. For me, having the privilege of learning from Esperanza illustrated the strong grip slumlords have on people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual lives in our city. A call to reclaim Fresno from those who have squandered the dignity of it’s vulnerable people for money is a call to make “the South of France” a reality for all our neighbors living in “war torn” places. It is a call to deeply care for all facets of our neighbors’ well-being so that our community can thrive in the way Esperanza is modeling so beautifully.
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Esperanza’s old apartment is located in Council Member Oliver L. Baines’ district. Share this story with Council Member Baines.