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Editor's Corner: The housing situation is getting worse

Sometimes you will have two or three families living in an apartment of less than 1,500 square feet. Not all the appliances will work. Complaints about rents bring retaliation from some landlords who evict complaining tenants so they can rent the crowded premises for more money.

Some of the older apartments and houses don’t meet building codes, and are dangerous to live in because of wiring problems, plumbing problems and moisture incursion from precipitation and leaky pipes.

But landlords aren’t always to blame for the existence of slums. Some tenants will move into none-too-clean premises, promising to clean the unit up for a discount on the first month’s rent, and then don’t clean anything up at all. Floors get dirtier, refrigerators aren’t cleaned out, tenants smoke in non-smoking units — using both tobacco and marijuana. Dogs and cats are allowed inside “no pets” units, and soon the animals begin dirtying the place; feces and urine are left without being cleaned up, and tenants in a drunken stupor will sleep next to animals that will use the beds as bathrooms. Cats climb curtains and tear them up.

Oh, and the tenants often don’t pay the rent when it comes due, in full knowledge that evicting them will be difficult in tenant-friendly California. And just before the sheriff comes to evict them, they move out under cover of darkness into another house or apartment, leaving no forwarding address.

Getting back to the landlords, you have some who rent out garages, two families to a bay, for $1,000 a month per family. These garages are drafty and unfinished. They have no running water. They may have no electricity, or heating or cooling. Children and adults alike will sleep on concrete or dirt floors, keeping one eye open because they know that with no interior walls — usually just blankets hanging from rafters — intruders can come into one’s living space bent on theft and molestation.

Renting out places like those just described is illegal, but we know it happens — in San Francisco. Yes, the shortage of housing in San Francisco is so acute that some people live in conditions like we’ve just read about.

And our code enforcement people in Madera tell us it is no different here for some, just on a smaller scale.

Which is why they have urged, and the City Council just introduced, addition of a rental housing inspection requirement to the city’s municipal code.

Housing has become so rare in San Francisco that to buy an ordinary house a person or family has to earn some $161,000 a year. Compare that to the average income of about $44,000. Rental of a studio apartment can cost $3,000 a month.

People in San Francisco who make $70,000 to $80,000 a year have to live more than an hour’s commute away from their jobs to find rents or mortgages they can afford.

And they have an inspection ordinance in San Francisco.

As some Realtors told the Madera City Council Wednesday night, such an ordinance won’t create any new housing. It only provides the city with a lever to help assure that existing housing is livable.

If the ordinance helps clean up some of Madera’s slums, that will be a good thing, but don’t forget the lesson of San Francisco, which is that slums and poverty feed off each other.

“Affordable” housing is a term that moves up or down with the wealth of a community.

Towns filled with people who have work have much smaller slum problems than those where unemployment is high.

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