What's at stake?
Fresno renters say they need more protections against skyrocketing rent and question whether Fresno city leaders can put aside their personal interests to beef up protections for rents.
Fresno families, renters and community advocates say it’s “past time” for city leaders to take action and protect city residents against high rental costs.
Over 40 Fresno renters gathered in front of City Hall in downtown Fresno to call for more renter protections and a rent control ordinance that would cap rent increases at 3%.
“Every day more (of) Fresno’s working families are at risk of losing their homes,” Marisa Moraza, a senior campaign strategist with Power California, said in a news conference Thursday. “That’s why it’s time — it’s past time — for city council to step up and work with community to ensure everyone has affordable, high quality housing.”
The group is also asking for more enforcement and oversight through the creation of a rental mediation board “that centers tenants and not corporate landlords,” Moraza said. Organizers said this type of oversight board is necessary to enforce a 2019 state law that caps rent increases at 10%.
Fresno saw some of the highest rent spikes nationwide during the pandemic, when rent prices rent prices for one-bedroom apartments skyrocketed by 28%. The city consistently topped national lists for having some of the highest rent increases in the nation.
A December 2022 analysis by Construction Coverage found that Fresno comes in 11th place out of the 56 largest U.S. metro areas for having the highest average increase in rents — about 33%, compared to a nationwide increase of just over 24%, from 2018-19 through 2022.
Speakers said rising rent costs, on top of low wages, rapid inflation, gentrification, and evictions, threatens housing stability of Fresno’s renters.
Karla Martinez, a policy advocate with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, said during public comment of the city council meeting that “rent control is a preventative measure for homelessness.”
‘Landlords on the dais’
Moraza said over 26,000 households spend over half of their income on rent. A Fresnoland analysis of U.S. Census Bureau found that 60% of Fresno renters are cost burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income in rent.
“It is the best, proven policy tool to provide immediate relief to the 26,000 resident households who are most at risk of eviction and homelessness.”
In 2021, Fresno’s anti-displacement task force recommended rent stabilization – which could include rent control – as a way to protect Fresno’s renters.
Shar Thompson, the Central Valley regional coordinator with Tenants Together and District 3 resident, said she had tried to meet with Councilmembers Annalisa Perea, Miguel Arias, and Nelson Esparza to discuss rent control.
“None of them have responded to emails, none of them have responded to phone calls,” she said. “None of them have actually done anything to help with the situation.”
Thompson clarified that while she has met with council in the past, as soon as you mention rent control,” it’s like the pariah of the conversation” and that council members are quick to shut it down and say, ‘oh, it’s not on our list of priorities this year.’”
Part of the challenge in moving the rent control conversation forward, Thompson said, could be that city leaders have personal interests in preventing rent increases.
“There are,” she said, “landlords on the dais.”
Four of the seven Fresno City councilmembers rent out property to tenants.
Councilmembers Mike Karbassi, Garry Bredefeld, Arias, and Perea confirmed in a text to The Bee/Fresnoland that they own and rent out property as landlords.
Karbassi said he rents to a close family friend “below market value,” while Perea said she rents to a young family and hasn’t raised rent since they moved in in 2019. Councilmembers Tyler Maxwell, Esparza, and Luis Chavez, said they are not landlords, although Chavez said that his spouse is.
City spokesperson Sontaya Rose confirmed that Mayor Jerry Dyer also owns and rents properties in Fresno, but said he is “beyond fair” as a landlord and has only raised rent once in 11 years on one of his properties.
Karbassi, however, doesn’t agree with Thompson’s argument. “I do not believe it precludes me from voting on this matter,” he said.
In a text to The Bee/Fresnoland, Chavez said that the issue is that the city simply doesn’t have enough housing.
“The issue with rent control,” Chavez said “is the unintended consequences of capping rents. It essentially freezes and disincentives new construction, especially of affordable housing.”
A 2018 report by the University of Southern California Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, however, found that moderate rent controls promote tenant stability and do not constrain new housing.
The coalition is asking city council to prioritize housing, rent control, and tenant protections in the upcoming budget planning decisions.