Dozens of residents protested for city leaders to take action on housing policies recommended in the Here to Stay report. Credit: Cassandra Garibay

What's at stake:

The city of Fresno committed $40 million to housing initiatives in June, however community members say they are not acting urgently enough.

A dozen or so renters and homeowners in the southeast Fresno neighborhood, near Winchell Elementary School, called on city officials to take urgent action to address the housing crisis Wednesday. 

Community members with Familias en Acción, a group of primarily Spanish speaking women, and Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability shared testimonies about how high rent prices, barriers to home buying options, especially for immigrants, and deteriorating housing conditions plague the city. 

The community members at Wednesday’s news conference are not the only ones feeling the pressure of Fresno’s housing crisis. Nearly 60% of Fresno renters are cost burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income in rent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the high cost to buy a home eliminates the option of homebuying for many low income families. 

“Community leaders, residents and families, veterans and young people continue to ask, ‘What will I do? And where will I go?’” said Karla Martinez, a policy advocate with Leadership Council. “Today our city leaders have an opportunity to take meaningful action that will protect our communities.” 

In April, Mayor Jerry Dyer’s administration released the One Fresno Housing Strategy and in June allocated $40 million to housing initiatives laid out in the plan. To date, however, the project’s new initiatives have not been brought before the city council. 

Housing advocates criticized the One Fresno Housing Strategy when it was released because the plan was advanced over the Here to Stay report – a report by the Thrivance Group that prioritized avoiding displacement and had gathered months of community input. 

Local city officials defended the mayor’s plan at the time, saying the two plans were not in competition with each other and even overlapped in some places. 

Martinez and members of the community group called once more for Dyer and the Fresno City Council to include community voices on how to prioritize the $40 million. In a news release, the group also outlined the following funding and policy requests: 

  • $4 million for an expanded eviction protection program. 
  • $2 million for a homeownership opportunities program.
  • $2 million for a rental assistance program beyond the emergency rental assistance program meant for individuals who faced financial hardship due to COVID-19. 
  • $3 million for housing improvement and rehabilitation projects.
  • Rent stabilization policies. 
  • Tenant protections regarding evictions. 

In the housing strategy there is a proposed timeline to invest $250,000 in the 2023 fiscal year into home revitalization, $900,000 into the current eviction protection program and $1 million into a rent stabilization program. However, housing advocates said it is not enough of an investment into community priorities, and they feel it is happening too slowly. 

“I think community members are tired of reiterating their same priorities over and over again and seeing this funding not being used towards these community based solutions,” Martinez said. 

While the community housing rally was taking place, Dyer and members of Faith in the Valley were in Vienna, Austria to learn more about how to develop affordable housing. 

Community says city must invest in weatherization as Fresno faces climate change

Several community speakers emphasized a need for programs to rehabilitate and weatherize existing housing so that the existing housing stock does not diminish. 

Araceli Sanabria, a homeowner in District 5, said in Spanish that her home is in need of serious repairs that she cannot afford. 

“I want to fix my home, but I don’t have the income to do so. There are many of us who bought homes with problems because we wanted to fulfill the dream of buying our own home, but it comes at a cost,” Sanabria said in Spanish, adding that she feels the city should invest $3 million of the $40 million to improve existing homes and help beautify the city while addressing the need to adapt for climate change. 

“It’s incredibly hot here. We all saw it on the news,” she said. “It gets hotter and hotter every year.” 

Maria Munoz, a renter near Jackson Elementary School, shared a similar sentiment. She said that like many renters in Fresno, she lives in an older home with poor insulation and no centralized cooling system.

Her landlord provided a swamp cooler, and she bought two portable air conditioning units, she said, but with record-breaking heat, her home stays hot while the electricity bill is more than she can afford. She said having funding to weatherize rentals would help.

“We ask the city council members and the mayor to listen to us and include us in the process for the $40 million,” Munoz said in Spanish. “This money is for the community, and they must take us into account.”

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.