Californians are long past the point at which affordable housing can be written off as somebody else’s problem. Last year, the Golden State had the 49th lowest ratio of housing units per residents among the 50 states.
Fresno is a tranquil harbor for housing when compared to the roiling seas of the San Francisco Bay Area and greater Los Angeles. But the squeeze in the Central Valley is real, and it’s getting tighter.
Average rent in Fresno is $1,060 as of July, according to RENTCafe.com. That’s 7% higher than a year earlier. And though the rents in coastal metropolises are $1,000 higher or more, Fresno’s costs are hardly a bargain for low-income families. Nearly 60% of Fresno County families who rent spend 30% or more of their income on housing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The factors that hold back housing construction throughout California are just as relevant in Fresno: community resistance (the old Not In My Back Yard syndrome), high construction and land costs, a community’s preference for lower-density housing, and strict environmental requirements.
Candidates Clash at District 2 Forum
At a recent forum presented by GV Wire and CMAC, the candidates for Fresno City Council’s District 2 seat were asked under what conditions they would approve multifamily development in the northwest part of the city.
The question sparked a confrontation between two candidates. Mike Karbassi took fellow business owner Lawrence Garcia to task for voting, as a member of the city’s planning commission, to deny approval for a multifamily apartment development west of Highway 99.
The proposed development, at Grantland and Barstow avenues, called for development on about 12 acres that, when fully built out, would have 172 multifamily apartment units.
Karbassi said the planning commission was poised to approve the project, but after residents came to a May 1 commission meeting to speak against the project, the panel voted it down. City staff had worked with the project developer and potential neighbors for eight months to smooth over issues and concerns, Karbassi said.
“And then 30 people show up and he flips his vote and kills the project,” Karbassi said. “That’s a fundamental difference between Mike Karbassi and Lawrence Garcia. Even if 100 show up, I’m going to stick to my values.”
Gung-ho for Housing of All Kinds
“He wasn’t there,” Garcia interjected. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Garcia said the residents had legitimate concerns about whether streets would be improved around the project, and whether public safety vehicles like ambulances and firetrucks would have workable access to a growing neighborhood.
Karbassi jumped back in. “There’s a reason our ambulances are posted throughout this city, to reduce response times. That’s just not an accurate statement.”
Moderator Randy Reed allowed Garcia to have the last word. “I’m the most business-friendly planning commissioner on that panel over the last five years,” said Garcia, who has since stepped down from as a commissioner. “Take one vote and let that be my record. That’s ridiculous. My record stands for itself.”
Candidate Jared Gordon, a business attorney, said he is gung-ho for housing all of kinds: single-family, multifamily, mixed-use, and tiny homes. “And we have to be flexible about where all of that goes.” He said easing the traffic bottlenecks on Herndon and Shaw avenues, near Highway 99, is a separate problem but still crucial to supporting extensive construction west of the highway.
“We need more housing in this community,” Gordon said. “That’s one of the things we can do to help reduce economic homelessness.”
Thinking About Millennials, Seniors
Candidate Oscar Sandoval, a community activist, said “we need to be creative” in locating and building affordable housing in northwest Fresno. He mentioned millennial-age residents who are trying to establish their independence, along with seniors with fixed incomes who need clear access to personal services.
“I think we’re going to have to look into something like a matching program where we meet the developers in the middle,” Sandoval said. “We don’t want one side leveraging control over the other, because then nothing gets done.”
A special election for the District 2 seat is scheduled for Tuesday. The seat has been empty since its former occupant, Steve Brandau, was sworn in as a Fresno County supervisor in April.
If none of the candidates attracts 50% plus one vote Tuesday, a runoff of the top two vote-getters will be held in November.