Dez Martinez, a homeless advocate, spoke with other community members about a need for affordable housing and homeless resources in Fresno. Credit: Cassandra Garibay / Fresnoland/The Fresno Bee

What's at stake?

Mayor Dyer set aside $40 million of federal pandemic funds in the budget for affordable housing. But just $6 million has been allocated so far.

A blitz of policies designed to address Fresno’s housing crisis faced some scrutiny from members of the Fresno City Council at their meeting Thursday. 

On one of the most crowded agendas in recent history, Mayor Jerry Dyer brought forward six new policies – and two resolutions to continue funding existing programs – totaling $9 million from the one-time federal pandemic relief funds, also known as ARPA.

Ultimately, the council unanimously approved $850,000 to build 24 tiny homes; an additional $3.5 million for the city’s affordable housing trust fund; and a change to the zoning code to eliminate the density cap on housing in mixed-use districts near transit.

Proposals for community land trust, a Section 8 housing voucher incentive program, and a program to provide landlords grants in exchange for freezing rents for two years, were postponed by the council.

Councilmembers rejected Mayor Dyer administration’s proposal to further streamline approval of more housing by allowing for ministerial approval of housing projects in infill areas.

Ivanka Saunders with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability as well as members of some of the city’s project review committees strongly opposed the concept of ministerial approval for housing – which would basically allow developers who meet clear, objective criteria to get projects approved and bypass community input.

“I have yet to see our city and residents attempt to block a housing project,” said councilmember Miguel Arias. “Instead, what I’ve seen is that our residents give us actually pretty good feedback.”

Additionally, several city council members – along with community organizations and industry groups – expressed dismay that the policy resolutions up for debate did not have details on how the programs would operate.

“Awarding a million dollars without knowing the details doesn’t seem to make sense at this point,” said councilmember Garry Bredefeld, in reference to a discussion with the Fresno Housing Authority CEO about how to incentivize landlords to accept Section 8 housing vouchers.

The California Apartment Association and the California Association of Realtors also expressed concern about the lack of details in the policy proposals.

Councilmember Esmeralda Soria asked the Dyer administration to include more of the $40 million it set aside from ARPA funds in the June budget process towards building more affordable housing through the city’s housing trust fund. The fund is used to leverage tax credits and other funding sources available to developers who build homes with affordable rents.

Soria also emphasized the need to set aside funding for direct support for down payment assistance for people who cannot afford to buy a home.

Marisa Moraza, a housing justice advocate with Power California, reiterated previous calls for the Mayor and council to consider more direct assistance for renters and homeowners – and to reject paying landlords to freeze rents at 2021 levels.

“This is not rent stabilization,” Moraza said. “This is the landlord subsidy program.” 

Mayor Dyer agreed to work with Councilmembers Arias and Tyler Maxwell to provide more details to the proposals that were postponed to get them ready for a future council meeting.

Dez Martinez, an advocate for the unhoused community, pleaded for urgency. “We’re in an emergency right now. And we’re going to wait for four years to build 24 tiny homes?”

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