What's at stake?
The city of Fresno needs tens of thousands of additional affordable housing units. But some are calling for more scrutiny of the city's project partners.
The city of Fresno will seek millions in funding to bring two affordable housing projects to new parts of the city, but a third proposal was shot down Thursday after controversy emerged around the nonprofit group behind it.
On Thursday, city council members approved two applications for state funds to convert the Travelodge motel in east central Fresno and the northeast Fresno Quality Inn into affordable housing. They also approved a new interim homeless shelter project in central Fresno.
But a 4-2 vote shot down an application seeking $25 million in state funds in partnership with the ACTS Foundation to build a two-story modular housing project at 6507 N. Polk Ave. for families and youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The city would have also committed $2.8 million of city funds to the project.
Council President Tyler Maxwell and Council member Mike Karbassi, whose district would have included the housing site, voted in favor of the project. Council members Annalisa Perea, Miguel Arias, Garry Bredefeld and Nelson Esparza voted against the project. Council member Luis Chavez was absent for the vote.
Some council members, homeless advocates and other members of the public raised concerns about the city’s decision to partner with the ACTS Foundation. According to its website, the ACTS Foundation is a nonprofit organization aimed at “providing food, supplies and education to underserved individuals.” Records with the California Secretary of State show the nonprofit formed in January 2021.
Multiple written public comments that were submitted to the city of Fresno contained allegations against Kevin Foster, the head of ACTS Foundation as well as pastor of LifeBridge Church. Allegations include financial mismanagement, misuse of funds, gender discrimination and staff turnover.
“The city needs housing,” Susan Camacho said in a comment submitted to the city, “but this is not a good foundation to give the money to.”
The Bee/Fresnoland reviewed about 14 pages of public comments opposing the project on Wednesday. But on Thursday, a number of the comments were later removed from the city’s website. According to a statement from City Clerk Todd Stermer, some of the comments were submitted by the same person and “included comments the member of the public intended to keep confidential —not to go out to the broader public.”
Arias and Perea raised several questions about the city’s decision to partner with the ACTS Foundation.
While the public comments are “simply claims” at this point, Arias said he’s concerned because “we’ve never had this kind of feedback directly to any organization that we partner with,” and the council hasn’t had the opportunity to vet the organization.
Perea, on the other hand, said she wasn’t comfortable supporting the project because she said the entity in question has a record of being “very anti-LGBTQ.”
Foster did not return multiple calls from The Bee/Fresnoland requesting comment.
Phil Skei, the head of the city’s homelessness initiatives and a local pastor of On Ramps Covenant Church in downtown Fresno, defended the would-be ACTS Foundation project partner. He said the foundation had engaged experienced housing builders and support services provider EA Family Services.
He also said the project didn’t have to go through a competitive bidding process due to state law.
Karbassi, whose district would have included the project, also defended both Foster and the foundation and said the comments submitted were “merely accusations” by disgruntled former employees.
“Unfortunately, people can make all the accusations they want,” he said, adding that the city has “never required RFPs before.”
Mixed support for proposed housing projects
Other proposed homeless shelter and affordable housing projects, however, were approved during Thursday’s meeting.
The City Council approved purchasing the Clarion Pointe Motel, located at 4061 N. Blackstone Ave., for $11.8 million to use as an interim homeless shelter.
One proposed city project, in partnership with the Fresno Mission, requests up to $15 million to acquire, rehabilitate, and operate the Travelodge located at 3876 N. Blackstone Ave. into permanent affordable housing.
The council also approved a proposal to apply for $25 million in state funds in partnership with real estate firm UPholdings LLC to acquire, convert, and operate the Quality Inn on 6051 N. Thesta St. as permanent affordable housing.
Pratik Souchuk, who represents Country Inn & Suites by Radisson near Bullard Avenue, was among those opposed to the Thesta Street project and criticized the city’s public outreach to nearby businesses.
“Our neighborhood already is experiencing a tremendous amount of damage from homeless issues,” Souchuk said, “which amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from theft (and) vandalism.”
An employee of Huckleberry’s restaurant on Bullard Avenue near Highway 41 also spoke in opposition to the project, citing property damage to the restaurant, including broken windows, break-ins and shattered bathroom mirrors by the unhoused community.
Others, like Bob McCloskey, an advocate with the Fresno Homeless Union, thanked the city for placing projects in other parts of the city. He said he was sorry to hear the people around the proposed sites “are already criminalizing and castigating those that are unfortunate enough to be homeless.”
While there are problems with damage to businesses and homes, McCloskey said, “The biggest problem is housing.”
Fresno resident Brandi Nuse-Villegas welcomed the additional shelter and housing sites but called on “more accountability” for the shelter operators and more transparency on their processes in exiting and discipline for residents.
These new shelters and proposed affordable housing projects are the first the city has initiated in north Fresno. Existing city-owned shelter sites are currently clustered entirely in Arias’ district, which includes areas of west, central and downtown Fresno.