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Residents At Summerset Apartments Face Uncertain Future, “These Are Inhumane Conditions”

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Diana Aguilera
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Valley Public Radio
Amanda Padre, 22, has to heat up water every morning to take a hot shower.

It’s been more than two weeks since residents at a Fresno apartment complex have been living without heat. FM89’s Diana Aguilera visits the site and learns how residents are coping with the cold temperatures.

Ever since November 13 Amelia Padre and her 22-year-old daughter have been living in a nightmare. No hot water, no heat, and no natural gas to cook with.

“This is a real problem these are inhumane conditions we face, like with the weather like this at night time it gets cold without no heat in the house it’s like being out in the jungle without nothing, you’re naked,” Padre says.

The two live in a one-bedroom apartment at the Summerset Village in Central Fresno. The 220-unit complex had its gas line shut down after several leaks were discovered. Now, repairs could cost up to $300,000 and will take at least three weeks to fix.

In the meantime, residents have to cope with the chaos. Padre’s daughter Amanda explains what steps they need to take in order to have a hot shower. They first heat up water in an electric stove “And then we go to the shower and use the bath water to add the hot water from the stove and the cold water into a bucket and then we mix it in to get warm water,” she says. “It’s frustrating.”

"It's a very quiet community in general. No one said a word." -Zach Darrah

It’s estimated that around 1,800 people live in the complex. Most are Southeast Asian refugees with many elderly and young residents. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin recently signed an emergency resolution and the city council approved it. This paves the way for the city to take control of the repairs if the owner doesn’t start the process.

“We’re really throwing everything we got at this problem,” City Councilmember Clint Olivier says. “It’s going to be a major fix and the system is a catastrophic failure. We’re talking about replacing most of if not all the gas lines that serve these buildings so we got a lot of work to do out there.”

PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles says since the pipelines are the property owners and not PG&E’s there is only so much they can do.

“Once we detected the leaks on the property owner’s property really all we can do is shut it off and then inform the property owner they needed to make the repairs for it to be safe again.”

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Credit Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio
Residents received this note after the apartments natural gas line shut down.

Residents are turning to a local non-profit across the street for help. The Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries offer electrical blankets, free meals, portable shower units, and portable heaters.

Zach Darrah is the executive director of the advocacy group. He says even though they’re right across the street from the apartments it took a few days for them to know what was going on.

“It’s a very quiet community in general. No one said a word. We had one of our elderly clients that we serve for many years she came and told me “it’s very cold.” And I said “do you need a blanket? How can I help you? And she said well it’s very cold for everyone.”

An hour later, his office was full of residents sharing their frustrations.

"In this case there are problems but they're not necessarily the landlord's problems as much as a city problem." -Bill Leifer, lawyer of property owner Chris Henry.

City officials say the property owner has spoken with Mayor Swearengin and agreed to address the problem. However on Monday lawyer Bill Leifer representing the owner at a Fresno City Council meeting said that the issues affecting the apartments were complex.

“In this case there are problems but there not necessarily the landlord’s problems as much as a city problem. But I hope we don’t lose sight of the difference between something that’s a community issue rather than a legal obligation of burden for the landlord. ”

Leifer says apartment owner Chris Henry has the permits to start the work making the city’s vote unnecessary. But Councilmember Clint Olivier disagreed, calling the owner a slumlord.

“Chris Henry, slumlord, we are coming for you, we are coming for you today. You own a house in Santa Barbara while your tenants in Fresno freeze. The City of Fresno isn’t going to tolerate any more slumlords.”  

Valley Public Radio’s attempts to contact property owner Chris Henry were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, residents remain in their homes many which also lacked installed smoke detectors and carbon monoxide devices.

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Credit Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio
Amelia Padre and her daughter Amanda have no plans of leaving, for now.

Last week city workers along with Red Cross volunteers worked to install new devices to keep residents safe.

While they’re installing detectors at Amelia Padre’s apartment they also check to see if she needs anything else.

Workers: “Do you need blankets or floor heaters?” Padre: “Probably heater, one more heater.”

Padre is a refugee from the Philippines. She’s called the apartment “home” for almost one year and she plans on keeping it this way, for now.

“Right now we’re going to wait it out until there’s a plan for them to fix whatever needs to be fixed but in the long run if we have to go and rent to another place, we have to,” Padre says.

“But right now we’ll stay in this place.”

For Padre and the hundreds of residents without heat or gas, all they can do is wait for either the city or the owner to start fixing the problem.

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