Affordable housing apartments, part of the Kings Canyon Connectivity Project, under construction in March 2019 along Kings Canyon Avenue east of Willow Avenue in southeast Fresno.

ezamora@fresnobee.com

For many Fresno County renters, finding affordable housing is even more challenging than in previous years, a new report shows.

According to the 2021 Affordable Housing Needs Report by the California Housing Partnership which analyzed data from 2019, 36,523 low-income renter households in Fresno County do not have access to an affordable home. That’s about a 3% increase in low-income renters without affordable housing since the previous year’s report.

The coronavirus pandemic further exposed the struggle for affordable housing.

“We get phone calls about how people are losing their homes and people cannot find an affordable place to live,” said Alexandra Alavarado, housing coordinator with Faith in the Valley. “Those kinds of stories and calls, they’re not ending anytime soon.”

By the numbers

According to the 2020 Fresno County Affordable Housing Needs Report, 35,244 low-income renters within the county did not have access to affordable housing. The shortfall in affordable homes has increased to 36,523 in one year.

Additionally, the percentage of low-income families in Fresno County who pay half their income or more in rent increased from 69% to 74%, according to the report.

As much as 90% of extremely low-income and very low-income households pay more than 30% of their wages in rent each month, the report stated.

New data also shows that the average price of rent in Fresno County increased nearly $50 in one year, to $1,067 for a two-bedroom apartment. As a result, renters must earn 1.5 times the minimum wage — $3,557 per month, about $42,684 per year — to afford an average two-bedroom rental unit.

According to data from the Census Bureau, the median annual income for individuals in Fresno County was $25,260 in 2019. The census bureau also shows median household income in the county was $53,969 in 2019 and about 20% of Fresno County residents fall under the poverty line, census data shows.

“The dream of home ownership seems so far for folks, and that’s hard to swallow for a lot of people because they are reaching and reaching for more resources and more support and there’s just not enough out there,” Alvarado said.

In February 2021, Apartment List reported that the city of Fresno had a 10.8% increase in rent prices and ranked among the highest rent increases in the nation in the past year.

“You don’t normally associate Central Valley cities with having a hot housing market,” said Rob Wiener, the executive director of the California Coalition for Rural Housing (CCRH).

“But if you have a low base like we do in the Central Valley, when you have an increase, that percentage increase is likely going to be higher than in the Bay Area or Los Angeles.”

Alvarado and Ivanka Saunders, policy advocate at the Leadership Counsel, said the lack of affordable housing leads to patchwork solutions that can create even more issues.

“When you have people that are in extreme poverty — and the statistics are increasing that way — for people to survive, and if they don’t end up out on the streets, they start cohabitating with other families to bring the money together,” Saunders said. “That creates overcrowding within a home. And we’re not out of COVID yet.”

Why Fresno County’s housing shortfall continues to grow

Housing advocates in the central San Joaquin Valley said an increase in truly affordable housing, along with creative solutions, are needed to help fill the growing need for affordable housing.

“Fresno County is one of the richest agricultural counties in the country,” Wiener said. “Yet we have huge pockets of poverty, not only in the city, but in some of the smaller agricultural communities within the county.”

According to the Fresno County Farm Bureau, farmers contribute more than $7.7 billion to California’s economy and employ about 20% of all Fresno-area employees.

However, farmworkers make about $2,403 per month on average — well below the $3,557 per month needed to afford a two-bedroom rental unit — according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Average Annual Wage Data for California Occupations.

Weiner said the disparity between farm owners and workers plays into the need for more affordable options.

“We desperately need housing, not just in Fresno (city) but in these smaller, agricultural communities,” Weiner said.

He added that the competition for affordable housing in Fresno has been particularly fierce during the pandemic because remote work has allowed for people from larger coastal cities to expand inwards and get “a lot more house for a lot less money.” Supply of affordable housing is simply not keeping up with demand.

The rental housing market in Fresno has been increasingly hot for the past four years — with average rents increasing 35.7% during that time.

Saunders and Alvarado said local governments could be doing more to help increase affordable housing options for low-income families.

Alvarado pointed at the city of Clovis as an example of a Fresno County city that has lacked commitment to affordable housing. On April 30, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan found the city to be in violation of California state housing laws for not zoning parcels for low-income homes and ordered Clovis leaders to implement a new housing program over three months to include 4,425 low-incoming housing units. The Clovis City Council unanimously voted on May 18 to appeal the court ruling.

“There are measures that are out there to try to balance these (housing) concerns that the city and county are ignoring,” Saunders said.

She said local governments can ensure a hot housing market doesn’t eliminate affordable housing for those in need by adopting inclusionary zoning, right to counsel for tenants facing evictions, caps on how much landlords can increase rent following an eviction, and setting requirements for developers.

According to Alvarado, Faith in the Valley, along with other community benefit organizations, is pushing the city of Fresno to allocate money for an affordable housing trust fund in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget.

Whom to call if you need help paying rent

Renters who make at or below 80% of the area median income and have lost income due to coronavirus qualify for the city of Fresno rental assistance program. To sign up for emergency rental assistance in the city of Fresno, visit fresno.gov/mayor/erap or call 559-621-6801.

Fresno County renters who make 50% or less than the area median income and lost income due to COVID-19 qualify for the County’s program. Tenants can apply to the Fresno County ERAP at Fresnorentalhelp.com. For more information, email erap@rhbsfresno.com or call 559-515-4700.

Here is a link to Fresnoland’s latest renter housing guide for more information about rights and resources.

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