What's at stake:
Downtown Fresno, Blackstone, Kings Canyon, Southwest Fresno, and Hildago are five neighborhoods profiled in a new report about the causes and consequences of urban blight in Fresno.
This is part two of Fresnoland's coverage of this report.
For close to a century, the city of Fresno has helped fund public infrastructure for new single-family homes at the edge of the city.
The effects of urban blight are everywhere, the report shows. The report contains statistical dispatches of urban decay in five Fresno areas: downtown, Blackstone, southwest Fresno, Kings Canyon/Ventura, and Hidalgo.
“The disparity in poverty rates across Fresno has grown over time. Increasing rates of poverty in historic neighborhoods is a symptom of economic decay and the adverse impacts of disinvestment,” the report said.
Despite the challenges in each area, the data shows that affordable housing has led the way in redeveloping Fresno’s core.
Data from downtown Fresno illustrates how the area became a poster child for urban blight in California. The city’s patterns of economic development are at odds with where it chooses to build housing, the report shows.
About 10% of Fresno County’s jobs are in downtown Fresno (30,000 jobs), the report says; less than 1% of those employees live downtown.
Instead, these workers commute longer and farther to work than ever before. Between 2002 and 2020, downtown employees’ commute times increased by close to 40%, from 24 minutes to 34 minutes.
“People are moving further out in the region, which increases vehicle miles traveled and can exacerbate decay,” the report said.
Over the last decade, downtown Fresno’s population decreased, reversing the population gains made in downtown in the 2000s, the report said. Today, downtown Fresno’s population still remains at levels in the year 2000.
About 1,200 housing units have been built downtown over the last 20 years, the report said, the majority of which have been affordable housing.
In the private sector, however, foot traffic isn’t high enough to sustain retail space, and rates of return on office space are too low for banks to finance new office space.
Given that office space in downtown is some of the cheapest ($19/square foot) in the city, new office development “is not likely in Downtown, given the low rents a developer can expect to make off of the space,” the report said.
Attempts to redevelop downtown, such as bringing cars back to Fulton Street – have not shown results. A few years after Fulton Street’s pedestrian mall was paved over to give space to cars, the majority of the street’s storefronts are empty, boarded up, and vacant, the report said.
For 40 years, Blackstone Avenue served as Fresno’s bridge from its eroding downtown to the expanding post-war suburbs.
Today, it’s an eight-mile long example of the city’s blight.
The report describes the six-lane road as a morass of vacant shopping centers, empty parking lots, car wrecks, pedestrian fatalities and auto repair shops.
The area has 1.9 million square feet of empty space, the report shows, across 30 vacant parcels which span over 44 acres. The private sector has shown little interest in redeveloping these lots – only two of the parcels were listed for sale, the report said.
The avenue is the city’s epicenter for car accidents, the report said. Blackstone contains the most crashes out of any of the major streets in Fresno, 21% of which are either fatal or involve serious injuries. A quarter of the crashes on Blackstone involve a pedestrian.
Since the street’s front-facing parcels were rezoned to allow multi-family housing, Blackstone has seen new affordable housing built on the strip over the last decade. But that hasn’t spurred the private sector to build higher-end, market-rate homes, the report said.
The area is a prime example of how private sector banks don’t want to be the first to finance any market-rate or luxury homes in the city’s core, the report said.
Ventura/Kings Canyon Corridor
Like Blackstone, Ventura/Kings Canyon was upzoned in 2015 to allow for mixed-use multi-family developments. Amenities are nice: the neighborhood is hooked up to a rapid bus transit area that runs every 10 minutes, connecting Clovis Avenue to downtown Fresno up to Blackstone.
But the city’s upzoning hasn’t resulted in private sector investment, the report shows. Despite high demand for rental units in the area, no major residential development has been built in this corridor, the report says.
As a result, the neighborhood’s housing stock is old and aging fast. The average multi-family home is nearly 60 years old.
In 2005, southwest Fresno ranked as having the worst concentrated poverty in America. Not even the devastation of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina could rival the legacy of economic deprivation experienced by southwest Fresno, a historically Black community.
Southwest Fresno residents receive low credit scores by commercial banks at twice the rate of the rest of Fresno, a Federal Reserve special report found in 2009 – still the most recent available – which jacked up the price of home mortgages in the area during the last housing boom. The area has 64% less credit than the rest of Fresno, the Federal Reserve Bank found.
Where the private sector has invested in southwest Fresno, it has tended to be noxious land uses.
For decades, the area has been singled out by the city and the private sector as a zone for warehouses and industrial facilities, the Greenfield report said.
Today, southwest Fresno contains the most polluted census tracts in the state.
And community-led efforts to roll back this legacy are under threat today. The Fresno City Council, alongside a prominent Fresno bank, United Security Bank, are using disinformation campaigns to reverse community-led efforts to redevelop the area away from industrial uses, Fresnoland found.
The report underscores the weight of this past and present that residents are battling against. The median income in the area has stagnated for decades, increasing only $4,430 over the last 40 years, adjusted for inflation, according to the report.
“The lower incomes in this community reflects how decades of decay have incentivized households with high incomes to locate outside of the community,” the report said.
Based on the USDA 2019 data, southwest Fresno experiences food hardships, as residents have longer distances to go to reach a grocery store.
Hidalgo is a neighborhood along Belmont Avenue, just east of downtown Fresno.
The neighborhood’s poverty rate is roughly three times higher than the state’s average. The disparity in poverty levels between Hidalgo and the city has continued to grow over the past few decades, the report says.
Adjusted for inflation, the median household income has only increased $2,200 over the last 50 years, the report says, hovering around half the city average since 1970.
Today, the neighborhood’s housing stock is aged, and there has not been significant private sector investment in housing for the community.
About 22% of households were experiencing overcrowding in 2021 – twice the city’s rate.
In 2021, almost 60% of renters were cost-burdened in Hidalgo, as compared to about 52% of renters in the City of Fresno.
“With more renters who are cost-burdened,” the report said, “the community has less income to spend on goods and services which can propagate decay.”