Fifteen policies aimed at making Fresno housing more affordable will soon advance to the city council next month, and Mayor Jerry Dyer approves of more than half of them.
A strict rent control ordinance, however, is not one that the mayor fully supports.
“Displacing people for any reason is contrary to the core of my One Fresno Vision and will be detrimental to the city’s future,” said Dyer. “The city is working with the Thrivance Group to ensure public discourse on the anti-displacement topic.”
Fresno Residents Want Affordable Housing
Of those, three led the list: establishing a community land trust, developing a rent stabilization program, and implementing a “Fair Chance” housing policy.
At a Fresno City Council council meeting on Dec. 9, college students, social equity groups, and other residents urged leaders to help stop displacement and unaffordability in the city by allocating funding from the American Rescue Plan.
Amber Crowell, a sociology professor at Fresno State, said most of her students struggle to find housing.
“Most of my students cannot afford housing, a lot of them moved away during the pandemic, because they couldn’t handle the rent,” said Crowell. “Now, my online classes fill up faster because they can’t come back to Fresno.”
Top 15 Policies City Council Will Vote on Next Month
Dyer Outlines His Support
After reviewing the policies, Dyer’s administration sent a letter to the task force outlining in detail the policies he agreed on —and those he had reservations about.
Dyer says many of the recommendations outlined in the report were measures his administration already is undertaking.
“My vision has been clear. I believe in an inclusive, prosperous beautiful, and safe city where people take pride in their neighborhood and community,” said Dyer.
“While there is much work ahead, I am certain that my administration’s efforts have us well on our way to realizing this vision. I see a local environment that is conducive to increasing supply. And I see housing equity for all city residents.”
So far, Dyer approves of establishing homeowner and renter assistance programs, a community land trust, an eviction protection program, an end to homeless encampment sweeps, and an affordability index that can help guide housing support.
Dyer also said he is supportive of other policies that will help the city’s most vulnerable and promote minority-owned small businesses.
Among them, Dyer hopes to enact a Geohub platform that would allow viewers to see development projects. He also envisions translation services for minority-owned businesses that struggle to compete for city contracts, and he wants to establish a social service agency that can help secure housing for youth.
Rent Control Measure
The Thrivance Group recommended enacting a citywide rent control act to help achieve long-term housing stability in the region.
However, those opposed to local rent control point to Assembly Bill 1482 , which limits annual rent increases to 5% for the next 10 years. However, there are carve-outs in this law that exempt some property owners from rent control.
And, if there is strong inflation, the rents could rise as much as 10%. As of last month, the consumer price index hovered at 7.0% after increasing 6.9% between December 2020 and December 2021 — the largest increase in the last 40 years.
Dyer says he would only support rent stabilization if the city is able to subsidize rent for a subset of landlords with the condition that their units remain affordable for a specific period of time.
“I believe there may be some potential at some point to explore this option,” said Dyer. “In fact, I am recommending allocating $1 million this fiscal year in ARPA funding for this effort.”
Landlord access to these funds would be voluntary and must only be utilized for property improvements in exchange for affordability covenants, said Dyer.
Housing Rights For Everyone
Just as controversial as rent control is the fair chance housing policy.
Under fair chance, landlords are prohibited from discriminating against a person with a prior criminal record or conviction. Landlords and real estate brokers also would be restricted from running background checks or inquiring about arrest or conviction records.
“These residents are already being penalized by the criminal justice system and it is cruel and unusual to prevent them from having stable housing,” stated the Thrivance Group report. “These policies exist because statistics show landlords are more likely to be lenient toward white applicants with criminal backgrounds than Black or Brown applicants.”
As a former police officer and Fresno PD’s previous Police Chief, Dyer says he believes in second chances.
However, he says, those found to be in possession of marijuana, engaging in prostitution, and committing domestic violence were more likely to be evicted for lease violations, nonpayment of rent, and leaving without notice.
“These prior convictions include fraud, assault, property crime and major drug offenses were found to increase the odds of failure,” said Dyer. “Any future support from my administration regarding fair chance housing would have to be crafted with this in mind.”
Eric Payne: A Historic Moment
Sophia Pagoulatos, the city’s planning manager and a member of the anti-displacement task force, presented the priority policies to the city’s planning commission on Thursday Jan. 19.
Pagoulatos said she was pleased that the mayor was on board with many of the policies.
Eric Payne, who is executive director of the Central Valley Urban Institute and chair of the task force, called the meeting a historic moment indicating that the policies being recommended have gained statewide recognition.
“We are hopeful that the city council and the mayor will continue to make the necessary investments for the implementation of this plan by the recommendations that we provided,” said Payne.
City Council Could Vote on Policies in February
The Fresno City Council is expected to hear the recommendations next month.
The council will hear from Pagoulatos on Feb. 10 when she presents the 15 recommended policies first outlined in the Thrivance Group report.
Councilmembers could take action as early as Feb. 17.
Dyer’s letter begins on page 145 of the correspondence, graphics, and summaries on improving Fresno housing affordability at this link.