Credit: Cassandra Garibay / Fresnoland/The Fresno Bee

This story was originally published at fresnobee.com on April 26, 2022.

Over the span of the pandemic, Fresno became one of the hottest housing markets in the country – leaving many households unable to keep up with the cost of the historically affordable city.

Mayor Jerry Dyer released his long-awaited ‘One Fresno Housing Strategy’ on Friday to address the growing acute crisis.

The nearly 150-page document includes 47 priority policies, which focus on building more affordable housing, but also on loosening restrictions for developers to build more market-rate housing – historically clustered in single-family subdivisions on the fringe of the city. The plan offers 24 additional policies to address homelessness.

The Mayor’s Office estimates that the three-year plan will cost nearly $260 million to implement – $101,645,000 for affordable housing and $158,184,000 for unhoused services.

The City Council is holding a special meeting Wednesday to begin discussions and get public input on the strategy and the Here to Stay report, a plan recommended by the Thrivance Group which focuses on avoiding displacement in the city.

“We know that these challenges weren’t created overnight in our city, so it’s going to take all of us,” said Deputy Mayor Matthew Grundy, who worked on the report. “And that’s part of the purpose of the plan: to be very specific about our unique community needs, make those very clear to the community, then invite everyone to be a part of the solution.”

What are the community needs?

The report presents a picture of a housing market that is noticeably out of touch with the demographics of Fresno: young, predominantly working class, and unable to buy, let alone rent a typical new tract home in the catchment of Clovis or Central Unified schools.

“If we were to wave a magic wand and match household size with unit types, we see that the existing unit types that we have, and that are available, don’t match the unit type demand,” Grundy said.

The report says that the city has over-built the number of single-family homes by over 28,000 houses.

According to the report, the city of Fresno needs:

  • 21,001 homes for renters who cannot afford more than $500 a month in order to not be cost burdened.
  • 7,139 additional homes that serve renters who can afford $500 to $1,000 a month.
  • More than 2,500 additional emergency shelter beds.
  • An additional 2,500 micro-homes to meet the needs of the unsheltered community.

In order for Fresno to meet the state’s housing production targets, known as its RHNA number, the city would have to plan to permit an additional 10,051 homes by the end of 2023 – a goal officials acknowledge will be incredibly difficult to meet. In the past 20 years, Fresno has permitted around 1,000 to 2,000 homes per year, a cyclical figure that follows national trends around the housing market.

What are the mayor’s goals?

The mayor’s housing strategy sets a goal of building, preserving, or rehabilitating 6,926 affordable homes and encouraging the development of 4,110 market-rate homes over the next three years.

According to that goal, 4,695 affordable homes would be added to Fresno’s housing stock by 2025 – about 1,700 of which are already in the pipeline, according to Grundy.

The report states that roughly a quarter of the anticipated affordable homes built will be geared toward households that can afford between $500 to $1,000 a month.

The city also hopes to create 2,231 affordable housing units for unhoused community members who make less than 50% of the area median income.

Though new affordable homes would put an “unprecedented” dent into Fresno’s housing crisis, a gap in proposed affordable housing and affordable housing needs will still exist. Grundy said that the mayor’s goals were set to be “audacious, but at the same time, realistic.”

“This (One Fresno Housing Strategy) is not the silver bullet. We didn’t wind up in our current housing situation overnight and we are not going to get out of it overnight,” Grundy said. “This is kind of like Step 1 as we see it as a part of a longer effort.”

Another key component of the plan is to encourage the transition of 8,000 single family home rentals into affordable homeownership options. The report specifically mentions long-term rentals as an area of single family homes that may be taking away homeownership opportunities for those living locally.

What is in the housing plan and what isn’t?

The housing plan breaks the 47 policies into four categories – preserving housing, producing housing, preventing displacement and promoting equity.

The strategy relies heavily on incentivizing the production and rehabilitation of affordable housing – through grants, loans, or loosening restrictions on building all types of housing, rather than firm regulations such as rent control – to achieve desired housing production and affordability goals.

However, one strategy included in the plan – inclusionary zoning – relies on a requirement that developers set aside affordable homes in market-rate developments. The plan expects about 390 new affordable homes to be built, at no cost to the city, through this policy, if adopted by the City Council.

The plan also includes a recommendation to raise the city’s housing trust fund to $1.5 million per year – which, according to the plan, will yield about 100 new homes.

But the majority of new affordable homes built through the plan will rely on historic investments in federal and state housing programs, including HOME, CDBG, and the low-income housing tax credit.

Roughly a dozen of the policy recommendations are to continue efforts that have already been underway, such as the eviction protection program or emergency rental assistance program. Most recommendations however would require new action from the City Council.

While the housing strategy includes 15 policies that were recommended in the Here to Stay report – which will also be discussed Wednesday – the plan is silent on rent stabilization or rent control, a policy around which housing justice organizers have centered their activism

Grundy said the city administration’s plan focuses on addressing a lack or mismatch of supply and demand.

“Instead of putting on a Band-Aid, we are going for the root,” Grundy said in explanation of why rent control was not in the strategy. “If we are able to create an environment that is more conducive to adding supply of affordable housing, then that really addresses some of the issues.”

What are the next steps?

Grundy said the plan’s unveiling Wednesday at the City Council’s special hearing will kick off a discussion about how to prioritize the policies and develop a plan for implementation.

“This very much is like a roadmap,” Grundy said. “It’s saying, ‘OK, these are things that the administration is recommending moving forward with.’”

He said that while the plan is being presented under one strategy umbrella, each policy recommendation “will have its day in court, if you will,” and most recommendations will be up for a council vote, according to the report.

According to Grundy, the report pulls from other local housing reports, like Faith in the Valley’s “Evicted in Fresno” report or the “Fresno Here to Stay’‘ report by the Thrivance Group, along with public comments from past public meetings.

It is unclear at this time whether there will be additional ways for people to submit comments on the report, or if the only comments made during public comment periods at City Council meetings will be heard.

Grundy did not clarify how policies will be prioritized, only saying that the administration will take into consideration what the City Council and public have to say and has laid out how much money should go toward each recommendation annually. He said that the city is already working toward some recommendations that are waiting on state or federal feedback, but did not specify which.

“We were very careful not to put specific timelines on some of these because it’s a very dynamic housing environment that we’re in,” Grundy said. “We wanted to make sure we were able to provide some specificity, but also at the same time, not committing ourselves to things that still need to be sorted through the process with council and community and staff.”

He added that the plan is meant to be a living document that could change with funding community needs.

“We fundamentally believe everyone should have a safe and decent and affordable place to call home, everyone,” Grundy said.

Those interested in commenting on the plan can attend the hearing Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Fresno City Hall or online here.

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.

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