Thursday, May 12 2022

Fresno faces two very different paths to pursuing a radical strategy to tackle the nation’s hottest housing market.

The two, it seems, are going through different versions of rent control beyond state rent caps.

On Wednesday, an unprecedented debate will take place at Fresno City Hall to weigh the pair of housing proposals – the long-teased “Here to Stay” report and Mayor Jerry Dyer’s new One Fresno housing plan.

Last June, the City received the Here to Stay report from the Thrivance Group, a consulting firm specializing in municipal land use plans.

As stated on its website, the Thrivance Group is a for-profit company that works “in the interests of racialized people, to bring transformative justice in public policy, urban planning, and community development.”

The company also believes that “race, place, and joy matter in defining individual and community outcomes.”

Here to Stay initially produced 46 policy recommendations for Fresno’s housing strategy, which were narrowed down to 15 main proposals following public feedback.

The 15 recommendations are as follows:

  • Fair Housing
  • Right of eviction to a lawyer
  • Rent stabilization, conversion restrictions and “affordable in perpetuity” designations
  • Increase local hiring and living wage on local contracts
  • Here to Stay Community Land Trust
  • “Here to Stay” Landlord and Tenant Assistance Programs
  • “Here to Stay” Deposit Program
  • Moratorium on camp sweeps
  • Public Health Impact Reports
  • Environmental Justice and Climate Resilience Planning
  • Fresno-Specific Universal Design Standards
  • Displacement and Homelessness Intervention Department
  • Accessibility index “Here to stay”
  • Right to go home
  • Villages of dignified small houses and scattered site dwellings

In a letter Dyer wrote last November to the city’s chief planning officer, Sophia Pagoulatos, he expressed his full support or willingness to explore 14 of the policies.

The one proposal that Dyer adamantly opposed was the creation of a separate deposit program to be administered by the city to help tenants make their payments, which he said could be a “government move.”

“This effort could interfere with disputes between tenants and landlords that are settled in Small Claims Court,” Dyer wrote. “While well-meaning, the City would be more likely to be held responsible for mediating the release of deposit funds and the costs associated with resolving disputes.”

Dyer said the city would consider administering such a program if state or federal funds become available to help subsidize rental deposits in the future.

One policy that Dyer somewhat supported is rent control.

“I believe in a free and unfettered marketplace,” Dyer wrote. “However, if [emphasis his] local government is able to subsidize rents for a subset of landlords, provided their homes remain affordable for a specific period of time, I think there may be some potential at some point to explore this option.

It looks like rent control could be on the horizon for Fresno one way or another, as Dyer’s One Fresno housing plan approves a rent stabilization pilot program along with 46 other proposals.

Under California Assembly Bill 1482, a large swath of Fresno’s rental housing stock is covered by a rent cap of no more than 10% per year. These properties include those built within the last 15 years (on a continuous basis), affordable housing, and properties in some form of corporate ownership.

His version, however, envisions creating financial incentives for “landlords in exchange for having to tie rental properties to affordability clauses.” Dyer’s plan goes on to note that it “does not propose rent caps for the private market outside of what already exists for RV parks.”

Dyer’s affordable housing recommendations total an investment of $101 million that will create 4,695 affordable and 4,110 market-priced units.

Proposals include eviction protection, continuation of the little-used emergency rental assistance program, land trust, incentive development, secondary suite development and down payment assistance.

The Dyer plan also targets single-family home rentals by increasing business license fees for landlords, especially those with a high volume of single-family home rentals.

The Dyer administration also offers 24 policy recommendations specifically to address the city’s homelessness crisis, which would total an investment of $153 million.

These recommendations include investing in the homeless assistance response team, emergency shelters, triage centers and increasing permanent supportive housing, among other proposals.

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