Fresno residents have the opportunity to weigh in on policies that aim to curb displacement from Chinatown, downtown and southwest Fresno as the city experiences rent hikes, an increased need for affordable housing and skyrocketing demand for building permits.
Fresnans have until July 30 to provide input on a recently released report that offers 46 potential anti-displacement policies.
“This is not just a set of policies that helps the city of Fresno be innovative or move forward or work in the interest of climate sustainability,” said Destiny Thomas, a former Fresno resident and the founder and CEO of Thrivance Group, the urban planning and project-focused organization that produced the Here to Stay report. “This package of recommendations also doubles as an intentional act of atonement.”
The city of Fresno contracted The Thrivance Group to create the report. The Thrivance Group’s team assigned to the report, which consisted of current and former Fresno residents, spoke with hundreds of Fresno residents about their concerns and needs related to displacement.
The result is a series of policy recommendations that prioritize breaking down barriers to homeownership and rental housing, creating more affordable housing and working to keep currently affordable housing tactics in place.
What is displacement?
Displacement can occur on several levels and in several ways, from a loss of an established culture to physically displacing residents to accommodate new infrastructure, according to Thomas.
Sometimes, displacement occurs following reinvestment, as an area becomes more attractive to those who don’t already live there. Reinvestment can lead to increases in property values and rents, which force out low-wage workers and low-income families.
The Here to Stay report describes the city’s history of divestment from certain communities as resulting from, “hostile land acquisitions imposed on Indigenous Americans, forced labor exploitation of Black farmers, unjust labor practices toward Brown migrants, and the socio-economic alienation of Hmong residents.”
Immigrant communities and communities of color in Fresno have historically been subject to housing policies that prevented them from living in white neighborhoods or from having access to loans to buy homes. In addition, the practice of redlining ensured that many neighborhoods were blocked from private and public investment.
While displacement has harmed many disadvantaged communities in Fresno, Thomas said the policy solutions would be beneficial for all.
“Everyone in Fresno needs these protections,” Thomas said.
The Here to Stay project allows residents to have a direct impact on potential policies and “opens the door for residents to have a say in how they want to be protected as new investment and developments pop up in their region,” Thomas told The Bee.
“When you hear words like ‘transformation’ or ‘transition’ or ‘growth’ or ‘renewal’ or ‘redevelopment’… folks rightfully will be afraid that that transformation means they will no longer remain in place,” Thomas said. “And these policies help us take back that terminology.”
Sophia Pagoulatos, the director of Fresno’s Long-range Planning Department, said the city’s goal is to help bring new investment into disadvantaged neighborhoods without pricing out residents and businesses.
Amber Crowell, a member of Faith in the Valley and the Anti-Displacement Task Force, said the task force will advocate for policies and work to make sure they are implemented over the next three years.
“We are going to be listening to what the community has to say,” Crowell said. “It’s really about what the community needs.”
Policies aim to make housing more affordable, accessible
Thomas said displacement is hard to quantify because many of its victims have been forced to move by the time concerns are raised. She described it as a “violent process” and “a social issue that doesn’t fit into the scientific process.”
However, the Thrivance Group ranked all 46 recommendations based on how immediate policy goals could be achieved and how equitable the benefits of the policy are, according to the report. The recommendations vary widely, from a right to return home policy to a right to counsel program.
While the Thrivance Group selected three policies to highlight, the prioritized policies may change based on community input over the next month, Crowell said.
Here are the top three policy recommendations from the report:
1. Create a Community Land Trust.
A community land trust is a nonprofit organization that is often used to create affordable homeownership options. It allows people to buy homes, but the land itself remains under the ownership of the nonprofit, according to Local Housing Solutions, a housing policy platform created by the New York University Furman Center and Abt Associates.
The Here to Stay report recommends that the city create a community land trust and incorporate an annual fiscal contribution. It also suggests the city take inventory of city-owned properties, as well as abandoned and vacant properties. The land would be owned by community-based organizations with the requirement that affordable housing be built and affordability be maintained.
The policy could result in the creation of affordable housing that remains affordable over long periods of time, the report said.
2. Develop a rent stabilization program, track conversion restrictions, and establish “Affordable in Perpetuity” designations.
The Thrivance Group also recommended a multi-step policy to maintain affordable housing in Fresno, based on existing rental units.
The policy calls for a city-wide rent control program that would allow landlords to set the initial rent, but restrict how much landlords can raise rent annually. Under the policy, the city would have to apply additional restrictions on “no cause” evictions, preventing landlords from evicting tenants for the sole purpose of setting a higher initial rate for the next tenant.
The policy also recommends that the city extend affordable housing contracts that are expiring. According to Pagoulatos, some housing deeds in Fresno have contracts built into them that require rent to be kept at a certain level for a set period of time.
Pagoulatos said the city currently monitors those contracts and keeps track of when they are set to expire, oftentimes working to renegotiate the contract.
“That’s something that the city already does, but that’s not to say we couldn’t do it better,” Pagoulatos said.
The Here to Stay report recommends that the city contract a third-party system to track when there is a shortage of affordable units and when units are converted from affordable to market rate.
3. Implement a Fair Chance Housing policy.
A Fair Chance Housing policy would aim to end discrimination against anyone with an arrest or conviction record, the report said. The policy would prohibit landlords or real estate brokers from conducting background checks or asking about any arrest records during any stage of the application process.
“These residents are already being penalized by the criminal justice system and it is cruel and unusual to prevent them from having stable housing,” the report reads.
How to submit public comment
Any Fresno resident, regardless of citizenship status, can share their thoughts on the Here to Stay report recommendations through July 30. The policy recommendations are slated to be introduced to Fresno City Council in the fall, following the comment period, according to Pagoulatos.
To check out the report and all 46 policy recommendations, residents can go to Transform Fresno’s website.
Locations listed below also have physical copies of the report:
- Fresno County Public Library, 2420 Mariposa St., Fresno.
- Rising Stars Missionary Baptist, 1104 Collins Ave., Fresno.
- Westside Church of God, 1422 W California Ave., Fresno.
- Mary Ella Brown Center, 1350 E Annadale Ave., Fresno.
- Fresno City Hall, 2600 Fresno St., Fresno.
- Saint Rest Baptist Church, 1550 E Rev Chester Riggins Ave., Fresno.
Listed below are ways to submit public comment:
- Online: To fill out a survey or comment virtually in English, Spanish or Hmong, residents can go to TransformFresno.com.
- Email: Residents can email in their comments in English, Spanish or Hmong to email@example.com.
- In person or by mail: Residents can pick up and drop off public comment cards at any of the locations listed above or mail their comments to Transform Fresno 2600 Fresno St, Fresno.