November 11, 2015 (CREST, EAST COUNTY) Last month we took you inside of Maria’s house in City Heights. Sadly, her living conditions were not unique. Sadly this is a wide spread problem, not just in the city of San Diego, but county wide.
Today Reporting San Diego spent some time at Crest, where we were shown some photos, and the health department complaint, by Anthony Young. He has lived in that unit for 8 years, When he first started this quest to report this, he first went to the city of El Cajon. (Crest is in the unincorporated area of the County, but few people know this.)
The City of El Cajon, referred him to the city of San Diego. Which also points to the disfunction among government agencies when it comes to these issues. The City of San Diego, after a couple of days, referred to the County Health Department, He did file with the County and we are including a photo of the document of the filing.
Young also told us that none “have given me the chance to tell my story.” So now he is getting the support of the National Action Network, the East County Coalition and CSA San Diego. In other words, he now has the support of fair housing activists.
Just finding the right agency to file, was like “a dog chasing my tail.” Unfortunately this is a common story.
Like Maria he has mold issues, “mold is real bad, and mold is painted over. There is structural damage. Two years ago one of the toilets was changed out, it was this June that the mold penetrated to the paint.” It is when Young told the owner about the paint and the mold and that is when the problems started. These include an attempt by the property owner to not renew leases and harass Young for bringing this to the attention of those who should do something about it.
He also said that there is plastic sheeting and white paint over the mold, that’s it. Young also said that the owner, has retained a lawyer and that lawyer has prevented health code inspectors from the County to come inspect the property.
The County also told Young that they were not going to send an inspector, even after he showed them time stamped pictures, because he was not on the lease. In other words the County was told one thing by the owner, and decided to take his word for it without verification.
Then there is SB 655, which was signed ealeri this year.
It partially reads:
This bill would specify that visible or otherwise demonstrable mold growth, excepting mold caused by inappropriate housekeeping practices or improper use of ventilation, is a type of inadequate sanitation and therefore a substandard condition. The bill would define mold as living or dead fungi or its related products or parts, including spores and hyphae. By expanding the definition of a crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
(2) The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.
This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.
Vote: majority. Appropriation: no. Fiscal committee: yes.
State-mandated local program: yes.
It was signed into law this year.
The bigger Picture…
Before the press conference started we were able to talk with Jorge Ibarra of the East County Coalition and Estela de los Rios. We talked about the situation at the Courtyard Villas (In El Cajon proper) where the tenants lost their meager possessions when the roof failed. We talked about how tenants are kept in fear of losing the substandard roof over their heads, and how many tenants do not know their rights under the law.
I did ask the uncomfortable question, since there is a myth going that only those without a legal status in the United States fear their landlords. Most of the tenants are in the United States legally, either as immigrants or native born. They are poor and they are kept afraid. As if to make that point, the Sherriffs office drove to the press conference to take a report, likely from the owner. This was a show of force. A sergeant and four officer in four different vehicles came. We had a vehicle parked on one end, one on the driveway, another down the road, and another higher on the street, that we could see.
We were also told that on December 8 the organization will go to the El Cajon City Council, as a show of force. Not only are they demanding the city do it’s job and send inspectors to these situation, but also to show they are a voting block.
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Reporting San Diego asked about that. They are holding seminars now, with all members of the community, including the Chaldean immigrant community and people from Afghanistan, They are being told not just how to become naturalized citizens, but how to register to vote and when elections are held.
There is also an effort afoot to force districts in the City of El Cajon, instead of city wide elections. This will change the nature of elections and power in the city of El Cajon.
De Los Rios also addressed the press and said: “Fair housing is not an option. it’s the law. Everyone deserves fair housing. And this right here, is not fair housing. Living in uninhabitable conditions is wrong. It’s unhealthy and this tenant desires every right.”
She did go on to point out that in El Cajon there are many mold and environmental issues. She added, that Young Deserves just treatment and justice.
Ibarra also addressed the press and stated that Young’s situation “mirrors many, many situations across the county. The reason we got these kinds of situations in the county is the lack of code enforcement that is supposed to go onto the property to ensure that people have habitable conditions to live in.” He added that there are many children who live in properties in mold infested properties, mice, rats, bedbugs, cockroaches and other uninhabitable conditions.”
Ibarra also said that the City of El Cajon has only one code enforcement officer for a population that excess 100,000. He added that they are calling on the County of San Diego to bring”some kind of rent control.” San Diego is one of the most expensive areas of the country to live. In particular El Cajon is the poorest city in the county.
This is the bigger picture, This is a very large problem and not limited to the city of San Diego, or the unincorporated areas, or the City of El Cajon. It is county wide. It is directly related to the issues of poverty and property owners taking advantage of their tenants. This is what activist keep telling us and they have shown us.
Shane Harris of the National Action Network is calling attention to all these issues and intends to do this county wide. This issue of housing justice is just one of the things in the wheelhouse of NAN, both locally and nationally.
One personal note. Sometimes people ask me or others, why don’t these tenants just pick up and move? The first question you must ask yourself is where to? The second, in many cases they are where they are because that is what they can afford. But there is something else happening here. People are starting to lose the fear of speaking out. That does not mean that people should live in substandard and unhealthy conditions just because they are poor.
The reason why I am actually going there, is becuase I have been asked this by a few people after they have read some of these stories. It is not a fair question. We should not be blaming people for wanting, indeed needing a roof over their heads. Activists have also told us that quite frankly, one reason property owners do this is because they can. They know there is no punishment or fine at the end of the day, and that all talk from public officials, about code enforcement, so far has not led to actual enforcement. Until the cost of not doing anything supersedes the cost of doing something, they will keep doing nothing.