People hold signs during a press conference at City Hall, April 8, 2021, held by the Right to Counsel coalition. The coalition, is seeking help in implementing legal support and protection for renters, who face evictions, unsafe living conditions, and other problems. The coalition, with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Faith in the Valley, students from Fresno State, faith leaders, and people who have been evicted.

jwalker@fresnobee.com

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Good afternoon, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Tuesday, April 13.

This week in Fresnoland, Monica teamed up with Brianna Calix on a story about how some members of the Fresno City Council acknowledged the failure of city policy to protect renters exploited by slumlords. Cassandra wrote about how the Tenants Mediation Proposal, presented by Council President Luis Chavez, received a tepid response from both housing advocates as well as other council members.

It’s Cassandra Garibay, housing and engagement reporter for Fresnoland, here.

Last week, Fresno City Council President Luis Chavez faced pushback from housing advocates and some city council members regarding a mediation program proposal that many said wouldn’t adequately protect tenants who are facing eviction.

With the coronavirus rent moratorium ending June 30, the City Council is trying to get ahead of the potential wave of evictions by enacting a program to protect tenants. One proposal to do so is Chavez’s Rental Mediation Program and the other is the Right to Counsel proposal brought forth by Faith in the Valley and the Leadership Counsel in January.

The Right to Counsel proposal includes pre-litigation steps, like mediation or legal aid, but it also includes free legal representation for any tenant in eviction court. The Rental Mediation Proposal, on the other hand, hinges on neutral mediation between landlords and tenants in cases of potentially unlawful eviction. Here’s a side-by-side breakdown of both proposals.

On Thursday, housing advocates and some City Council members said Chavez’s proposal wouldn’t cover the needs of Fresno’s majority-renter population.

Council Vice President Nelson Esparza, who represents District 7, compared a mediation-only approach to “using a plastic Solo cup to try and catch this wave when what we really need is a big wooden bucket.” Here are some of the public comments at Thursday’s City Council meeting (all public comments on the matter were in opposition of a mediation-only approach):

  • Alexandra Alvarado, community organizer with Faith in the Valley — “In Fresno the disparity between legal representation between tenants and landlords is well over 70%. With mediation services already in place in Fresno, we know it’s not working. We know that when folks go to court, they’re still losing their home, and at the end of the day, that is what matters most.”

  • Ruben Espinoza, policy advocate with Fresno’s Barrios Unidos — “Over half of Fresno residents rent, and the majority of renting households are rent burdened. The Rental Mediation Program plan does nothing to keep people housed and will not decrease evictions or homelessness once the eviction moratorium is lifted. Studies have shown that the right to counsel proposals in other cities prevent homelessness.”

  • Janine Nkosi, Faith in the Valley regional advisor — “Do you realize there is already a mediation program in the courthouse for evictions that’s been in place since the 1990s? How is the Rental Mediation Program different?”

  • Ivanka Saunders, policy advocate with Leadership Council — “Council members, don’t throw together this half-baked, so called mediation program as the solution when you have the community, nonprofits and experts who have already done the work and are willing to support you on a plan that will be successful.”

Before the City Council meeting, the Right to Counsel Coalition held an event where two mothers with evictions on their record shared their testimonies.

One of those mothers was Inez Hernandez, a former tenant of Manchester Arms who was evicted due to a default judgement weeks after calling code enforcement. Manchester Arms was brought up several times throughout Thursday’s City Council meeting where some called for a second look at their Rental Housing Improvement Program that allowed the substandard Fresno apartment complex to slip through the cracks.

City Council said more conversation about both the rental housing program and potential eviction prevention programs needs to happen, and soon.

Fresnoland will be watching to see what those conversations mean for Fresno renters. In the meantime, if you’re a Fresno renter who has struggled to get your landlord to fix problems in your home, fill out this survey and have a great week.

(Do you want to see more investigative, engaging, and explanatory reporting in the central San Joaquin Valley? Please donate here to sustain our work.)

And now, the week’s top reads:

(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit www.fresnobee.com/coronavirus.)

Housing, Transportation, and Land Use

Soaring real estate prices, combined with bidding wars and fears that homeownership is becoming out of reach for millions of Americans, is driven by a limited supply of inventory. Axios.com

California’s ambitious high-speed rail project may benefit from the $2.3 trillion infrastructure-investment program proposed by President Joe Biden. Sacramento Bee

CityServe is guiding landlords and renters struggling financially due to the impacts of COVID-19 through its Eviction Prevention Starting Point in Tulare County. Visalia Times Delta

Economy and Neighborhood Inequality

Some single-unit, hard-hit Fresno restaurants are eligible for up to $3,500 from the California Restaurant Foundation’s Resilience Fund. Businesses owned by women and people of color will be prioritized. Fresno Business Journal

The Fresno City Council has once again postponed action on a modified proposal to require grocery stores to provide workers either health care benefits or an additional $3 an hour for the next 120 days to compensate them for risks working during Covid. Fresno Business Journal

The American jobs growth bonanza for 2021 and beyond that is being predicted by economists and asset managers could be limited by disagreement between workers’ demand for higher wages and employers refusing to pay them. Axios.com

Walmart is opening its first California fueling center in Kerman. The new 16-pump fueling center will also have a 440 square-foot food and drink convenience kiosk. Fresno Business Journal

President Biden’s infrastructure proposal includes big investments in “care infrastructure” — investments designed to help women succeed in the workforce. NPR.org

About 38 million or 15% of Americans say they are worse off now than before the outbreak began. The problem is more pronounced at lower-income levels. AP News

The Consumer Price Index, a closely watched inflation measure, rose 0.6 percent in March from February, the fastest pace in nearly nine years, according to the Labor Department. New York Times

Water and Air Quality

EPA Administrator Michael Regan says that President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes $56 billion to modernize water systems around the country and $45 billion to replace the nation’s lead water pipes, which include those that bring water to an estimated 6 million to 10 million homes. NPR.org

Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined a plan that prioritizes forest management and wildfire mitigation projects as he unveiled a $536-million plan to bolster the state’s firefighting efforts during a visit to Fresno. Visalia Times Delta

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s decision, expected later this week, could mean steep cuts to irrigation water for hundreds of farmers this summer to sustain endangered fish species critical to local tribes in the region straddling the California-Oregon border. Los Angeles Times

More than 300 businesses and investors, including such giants as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Coca-Cola, are asking the Biden administration to set an ambitious climate change goal that would cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. AP News

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