Her husband has lost work in a packing plant over the last year. She said her landlord took two years to fix their leaky roof and is ignoring her requests to replace ratty carpeting. Newly pregnant, she’s afraid of getting evicted but also believes the home’s deteriorating condition makes it too dangerous to be there.
“I want to leave,” Blanca said. “I can’t live like this anymore. I’m looking, but I haven’t found anything. The cost is too high.”
Fresno activists say Blanca’s story is common among low-income tenants, with families regularly reporting rent hikes of 10% or more in recent years.
“They’re at a point where they’re having to decide whether they can afford a home that’s healthy, sanitary and in a livable condition, or whether they have to move,” said Grecia Elenes, regional policy manager at the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, a Central Valley advocacy group.
Driving some of the price increases in Fresno’s poorer southern neighborhoods are investors who pay skyrocketing prices for aging four- to 10-unit apartment complexes, said Brad Hardie, president of Regency Property Management, which manages 8,000 homes across the Central Valley. These new landlords are boosting rents by as much as 10%, Hardie said, which signals to neighboring property owners that they can do the same.
“I see it every day. It’s mind-blowing,” Hardie said.
Some tenants have weathered the rent hikes during the pandemic by moving in together or receiving expanded unemployment benefits and other government assistance, Hardie said. He fears what may happen when the money goes away and jobs don’t immediately return.
For Sandoval, who lost her job nearly a year ago, that moment has arrived.
The lifelong Fresno resident left her customer service position at a propane sales company in January 2020 to take care of her sick mother. She returned in April but was laid off a couple of weeks later.
Now Sandoval is afraid she won’t be able to find work that could pay anything close to what she was making before. She’s getting groceries from local food banks and is current on her rent only because she qualified for three months of rental assistance from one of the federal coronavirus relief packages. Her unemployment assistance just ran out; she’s in the process of reapplying to receive more benefits.
“It’s definitely harder for people at the bottom,” she said. “Not everybody can move into the new building with the granite countertops and the washer-dryer. In the real world, who can do that?”
Sandoval’s rent hasn’t increased during the pandemic. But when she looks at her complex’s Facebook page, she sees an apartment similar to hers advertised for $200 more a month. It’s only a matter of time, she believes, before her bill goes up.
———©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.