A new opportunity for unhoused Fresno City College students could be on the horizon if the city receives funding from Homekey 2.0 for the project.

At the Dec. 9 Fresno City Council meeting — where dozens spoke up about the city’s housing needs — the council voted to submit a joint application for Homekey 2.0 funding to acquire and transform a motel into permanent affordable housing for Fresno City College students. The project is in partnership with the city of Fresno, developers UPholdings and RH Community Builders, the Fresno Economic Opportunity Commission, and Fresno City College.

“Why this particular partnership is so groundbreaking and essential for the future is that any person who is living on Parkway, anyone who is living on the street can apply to Fresno City College in the Spring semester and be eligible for this housing, anybody in our community,” said Natalie Chavez, the Fresno City Housing Opportunities Promote Education (HOPE) program coordinator.

While the funding application was approved unanimously, several council members expressed concerns about property ownership, security of funding, location, and the prioritization of the project.

San Joaquin Hotel to be transformed

Upon receiving Homekey funds, UPholdings will purchase and renovate the San Joaquin Hotel, located near Fig Garden. UPholdings President and co-owner Jessica Berzac said the applicants are hoping to receive roughly $13 million for the project, roughly $10.5 of which would be used to purchase the property.

The transformed motel would then have a 55-year affordability covenant, meaning that rent would be rent-restricted for at least 55 years.

Around 50% of the apartment complex would specifically be reserved for students aged 18 to 24 in compliance with receiving Homekey funds set aside for assisting young adults, according to Berzac.

Through the housing support pilot program HOPE, Fresno City College agreed to subsidize students’ rent at the 69-unit complex for three years. Beyond that, subsidizing the affordable housing complex is not guaranteed, which raised some concerns among the City Council.

“I don’t want to be in a position a year or two from now where I’m being asked to subsidize your operation for a very expensive facility, and we have to compete with another city-owned facility,” Councilmember Miguel Arias said, referring to one of the city’s six motel-to-shelter properties.

However, Berzac said UPholdings agreed to seek funding other than the city of Fresno in the case that subsidizing the affordable housing complex does not continue through Fresno City College after three years.

Debate over project location

The San Joaquin Hotel is located on Shaw Avenue near Fruit Avenue, about a 10-minute drive from the community college. The area is located in a state-designated “high opportunity area,” which makes it more competitive in terms of pulling down state dollars.

“This property has been a big problem for our northwest police department, unfortunately gangs have used this property in the past,” Councilmember Mike Karbassi said. “This is a really nice way to clean that up.”

However, both Councilmembers Miguel​ Arias and Tyler Maxwell questioned why the San Joaquin Hotel was chosen for the project site.

“The location is what confuses me,” Maxwell said. He also questioned why the partnership was exclusive to Fresno City College students rather than to both Fresno City and Fresno State students.

In response, Chavez said while anyone can become a student at a community college, there are “significant requirements” to become a Fresno State student. She also said the area is well connected to transportation and equidistant from Fresno State if students were to transfer from the community college to the university in the future.

The location being in a “high opportunity” area also moves away from concentrated poverty.

“I want to give (students) an opportunity to live in an area of town where they perhaps would have never been able to afford or perhaps would never have been exposed to,” Chavez said.

The application is slated to be submitted at the end of January, and the hotel could be transformed as early as fall of 2022, according to a timeline Berzac shared with the council.

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.