Low-rental life in San Bernardino

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Christina Marie
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Low-rental life in San Bernardino

Unread post by Christina Marie » December 29th, 2005, 2:29 pm

Low-rental life in San Bernardino
Landlords, tenants both share stake in conditions
Brad A. Greenberg and Megan Blaney, Staff Writers

SAN BERNARDINO - They come because it's all they can afford or because no on else will rent to them or because they need a place to push drugs.

They usually don't stay long.

"I'm trying to get out. I'm saving money" is a common refrain of the poor men and women who live in the deplorable conditions that come with relatively low rent.

Many eventually move to another low-budget apartment. Oftentimes though, they remain until someone is killed - a stranger, a neighbor, a child.

In San Bernardino, landlords have come under fire since 11-year-old Mynesha Crenshaw was shot dead by gang members firing into an apartment. Tenants accuse landlords of getting rich by operating "slums." Authorities say there is truth to those allegations in some cases but not all.

Low-rent apartments, which tend to be an epicenter of crime and are plagued by gang-related murders, are widespread in San Bernardino, a city of nearly 200,000 where more than half the housing is rented.

"I'm an investor. I'm not Donald Trump," said Edward J. Harding III, who owns 32 apartment complexes throughout the Inland Empire, including about 20 in San Bernardino. "This is part of what goes on with the San Bernardino demographic. It's like managing a leper colony."

It's common for cities with large rental populations to be heavily afflicted by crime, said Larry K. Gaines, chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at Cal State San Bernardino.

"You have some property out here that is on its last legs. It is run down; it requires massive renovation, but they don't want to put the money into it," Gaines said. "What happens then is they really don't care who they rent to or what is going on as long as the rent is being paid."

People in more well-to-do areas of San Bernardino suspect police are so busy dealing with drugs, prostitution and murders in poor neighborhoods that officers would respond slowly if their home were burglarized.

"There are some apartment locations that are constant problems, constant drains," said Police Chief Garrett Zimmon, who added that his beat plan ensures "adequate services throughout the city."

As of Saturday, police had responded to the Ascot Park apartments this year more than any other residential location - 689 times. That means, on average, police visited the 160-unit complex twice a day. A 22-year-old man was killed there in March.

"If you're used to this way of living, it's not so scary," said a 29-year-old mother of three who asked that she not be identified because she feared for her safety.

That way of life includes staying indoors at night and teaching your children to drop when they hear gunshots.

"We've slept on the floor many a night," she said.

Ascot Park, at 1422 E. Ninth St., also has been repeatedly cited for code and fire violations. In April, a resident was hospitalized after his ceiling collapsed on him. The Fire Department red-tagged that unit and 12 others found to have leaking and sagging ceilings.

Code-enforcement officials inspected all units this month. They said they found "a severe roach infestation," toilets missing parts and air-conditioning units that had moving parts and live electricity exposed.

Authorities said Ascot Park owner Jose Gonzalez fights code violations tooth and nail.

Gonzalez said the high level of police calls at Ascot Park are being made by 20 families he has evicted.

"We don't have any problems in the apartments in San Bernardino," said Gonzalez, who lives on Newport Beach's Lido Island and also owns a large apartment complex on G Street and another on Mount Vernon Avenue.

He said he screens all prospective tenants, looking at their criminal, rental and employment histories.

He has an on-site manager and also employs a private security company at a cost of $1,200 per month. A security guard stops by the San Bernardino properties in the morning and at night. Gonzalez said it has reduced police calls to his properties by 90 percent.

His efforts are common among the major landlords in San Bernardino. Gonzalez, Edward J. Harding Enterprises and Pama Management say they are not to blame for the condition of their apartments. Glenn Baude, director of code enforcement, agreed.

"Ninety percent of the time, that is created by the tenant," Baude said. "They pile all their garbage up in the kitchen and then they have cockroaches. And they want to know why the have cockroaches."

River Glen is a beige-and-peach, two-story complex of 123 apartments on Lynwood Drive. It's gated, but the gate is never locked. There is a tennis court, but no net.

The landscaping is maintained and many apartment doors and windows were decorated last week with wreaths, red bows and stockings. But the complex's curb appeal - if you can call it that - is a facade, residents say.

"They need to just tear them all down, the whole complex," said Desoire Kilson, 19, who shares a $700-a-month, two-bedroom apartment with her 2-year-old daughter, sister and aunt. "When we moved in, there were roaches everywhere. It looked like somebody just dumped a box of them in here."

That was 14 months ago. The cockroaches are gone, but little else has changed, they said. Roach powder is packed along the crevices of the kitchen between the wall and linoleum. The light switches don't work. The stove is covered in rust; countertops are yellowed; the shower is stained black.

A broken window in Kilson's bedroom is covered with a cardboard box.

Last month, she stared out that window at the Cedarwood Apartments and listened to a cacophony of gunfire. She later learned that an 11-year-old girl named Mynesha Crenshaw was hit by three bullets and killed.

"I don't go outside. My daughter don't go outside. It's not safe," Kilson said.

Twelve surveillance cameras are scheduled to be installed next week. Signs hang from the second-floor walkways: "We care about your safety - No skateboarding, bicycle riding, roller-blading or ball playing."

But residents are hardly worried about their kids scraping their elbows. They're worried about someone spraying the complex with bullets.

Five people have been slain this year within three blocks of River Glen. Last year, on an August Sunday, a visitor was shot dead in the River Glen courtyard and another man was killed in the parking lot of the bar next door.

Since Mynesha was killed a block away, more than a dozen apartments have gone vacant, said Everet Miller, chief financial officer of Pama Management, a subsidiary of the company that owns River Glen.

That company, El Monte-based Group IV Pomona Inc., has invested more than $10 million in more than 500 San Bernardino apartments, said CEO Swaranjit "Mike" Nijjar. Many units are in large complexes.

Baude and City Attorney James F. Penman - between whom there is no love lost - both identified Pama as the worst landlord in town.

"They do stuff, but only when we make them," Baude said.

Nijjar disputed those claims, saying his managers are instructed to respond to apartment problems as soon as they are reported. It's hard though, he said, to find good managers for apartments in poor and crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Under San Bernardino's fire-inspection program, the city is mandated to inspect each apartment complex every year. Annually, landlords have to bring their properties up to code requirements or face the financial reaper. Code-enforcement officials collected $1.7 million from noncompliant landlords in 2004.

Tenants are not blameless. Some leave dirty diapers on the floor and food on counters; they break windows and flick ashes on the carpet.

Harding blames a few former tenants for the death of 1-year-old Adrian Alejandre.

Three times in 13 months inspectors for the county Department of Public Health reported the pool at Breezeway Manor was unsafe because its gate was not secure.

On June 23, an inspector for the county ordered the pool closed.

"Observed front gate of pool torn off," the inspector wrote. "This is an immediate drowning hazard."

The next day, Adrian slipped through an 11-inch gap in the gate and fell into the pool. Doctors could do nothing to save him. Adrian died five days later.

"I don't know what's going to happen with this, but these people need to be held responsible," said Adrian's father, Benjamin Alejandre, who filed a lawsuit in October against Harding for unspecified damages. "Every 30 days these guys come around for the rent and they expect to get paid. If you're late even a day, they charge you. But then they let their place fall into disrepair."

An hour before the boy drowned, Harding said, his maintenance guy had repaired the gate for the fourth time in 10 days. A few kids living at Breezeway Manor had made it their mission to destroy any restoration. The kids returned and cut the bailing wire that had been used June 23 to patch the gate while a new one was on order, Harding said.

"The police should prosecute these kids for negligent homicide. These kids were just like the gang members who shot Mynesha Crenshaw," said Harding, who is preparing a countersuit against the parents.

Kevin Brophy, chief of operations for Harding's properties, submitted a private investigation to the District Attorney's Office and San Bernardino police Detective William Flesher last month.

Reached by phone on vacation, Flesher said the case is under investigation.

"Tell Kevin and Ed Harding to go ahead and stick it," Flesher said, adding "I'm getting sick and tired of Kevin Brophy and Ed Harding trying to run the . . . Police Department."

Harding has a way with local authorities. He tends to chafe police officials; in the past he has chided them for not doing enough to maintain safety around his apartments. But Baude and Penman said Harding has turned things around. (Harding donated $3,000 in October to Penman's mayoral campaign.)

Five years ago, conditions at Harding's properties and throughout the city were much worse. But the real-estate boom has changed things. The value of some complexes has doubled, tripled and quadrupled. Landlords are less willing to let the bank take a building that falls into dire straits. They're also charging a lot more for rent.

Harding used to rent a two-bedroom apartment in San Bernardino for about $400. Now he charges $700 to $800 per month. That added income, he said, pays for the repairs that weren't being done before.

He plans to install 90 surveillance cameras at Cedarwood and three nearby complexes he owns. Police calls have dropped since he installed cameras at Mountain View Manor, a once notorious complex known as the Yellows. But the problem moved down the street, Zimmon said. Police officers have since helped that landlord eradicate the problem.

Like flour, apartments can be spoiled by a little yeast. If a bad tenant moves into a complex, nobody wants to snitch on their neighbor's drug dealing or complain about gang members loitering.

But that is evolving. People throughout San Bernardino - business executives, religious leaders and the working poor - have been calling for change since Mynesha's death. Residents are tired of living in an "All America" city gone sour. They don't want their hometown to be continually listed on the list of 25 most dangerous cities in the nation.

But the solution is not as simple as putting on a new coat of paint on rundown apartments or even keeping criminals out of one neighborhood.

"It's not just my building. It's like the whole streets are filled with gangbangers and drug dealers," said Mike Nijjar of Pama. "It's like you clean it up, they come back again. You clean it up, they come back again."


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Unread post by pinky » December 29th, 2005, 7:08 pm

yeah that whole article is true. when i first step inside river Glen my girls aprtment was full of roaches and im not a punk but damn i couldnt sleep because if you was sleeping on the floor you would have roaches on ya back hands and if you were stupid on ya face.and yes gangs was a problem not at river Glen but the other one before that which had cops making there regular rounds around that hood. oh yeah big ups to my girl desoire lol thats how i know about River Glen.

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Unread post by WIP » January 2nd, 2006, 3:29 am

pinky wrote:yeah that whole article is true. when i first step inside river Glen my girls aprtment was full of roaches and im not a punk but damn i couldnt sleep because if you was sleeping on the floor you would have roaches on ya back hands and if you were stupid on ya face.and yes gangs was a problem not at river Glen but the other one before that which had cops making there regular rounds around that hood. oh yeah big ups to my girl desoire lol thats how i know about River Glen.
pinky you crazy. that must be some good booty. thats funny as hell.

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