(UPDATE — 4/23/2020: The Fresno City Council passed the housing assistance resolution by a 4-3 vote asking the city manager and a subcommittee to return with more details on how to execute the plan. Councilmen Garry Bredefeld, Mike Karbassi, and Paul Caprioglio voted no, saying they were concerned about specifics on funding the programs.)
The original story
The Fresno City City Council is contemplating grants of up to $1,000 to help residents with rents and mortgages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proposed by Esmeralda Soria, the council would use $1.5 million to create the COVID-19 Consumer Grant Program. The goal is to prevent evictions and support housing assistance.
The council will discuss the resolution during a special meeting Thursday. The council will meet in regular session as well.
Additionally, the council will discuss adding $1 million to the Save Our Small Businesses fund.
“We want to make sure that we do whatever is possible within the city’s financial ability to provide some relief both to the consumer and to the small businesses,” said Soria.
Housing Relief Will Provide a ‘Win-Win’
“If this is a priority for the city of Fresno, I believe that an early investment is going to help save our economy.” — Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria
Soria said providing money to those who need help is a win-win for tenants and landlords.
“(Landlords) would now have the ability to receive some rent during this time of uncertainty (from) many of the folks that have either lost jobs or reduced wages,” Soria said.
Although the resolution mentions “renters,” Soria said it’s her intention to provide relief to homeowners with mortgages as well.
Grant Program Details
To be eligible for the Consumer Grant Program, a recipient must be a Fresno resident, provide a rental agreement and evidence the grant would go to housing needs, and prove a hardship caused by the pandemic.
Another requirement is that a household must be at 80% or less of the average median income. The median income for the county, according to the most recent U.S. Census statistics, is $51,261; 80% would be $41,009.
The grant would be $400 per individual; $800 per couple or single parent with children; and $1,000 for a family with multiple adults and children.
By the numbers, the program would help between 1,000 and 3,750 households.
While grant recipients must be Fresno residents, U.S. citizenship is not a prerequisite.
“We’re not asking for any of that. As long as you can prove you are a resident of the city and you can prove that you are in financial need for housing costs or whatnot related to it, then you can qualify,” Soria said.
Soria also said she wanted to help those who were not eligible for federal stimulus checks, including those living in mixed immigration status households.
The proposed resolution says “priority should be given to Fresno city residents that meet the program criteria and are otherwise ineligible for federal stimulus funding.”
Small Businesses Loan Applications Still Being Sorted
With an extra million dollars, Soria wants to help more small businesses.
Ten days after the April 12 deadline to apply, the city is still sorting out all its applicants for the $750,000 Save Our Small Businesses Act.
Soria said more than 2,600 businesses submitted applications, but only around 1,000 were eligible. According to the program, businesses could receive up to $10,000 in a loan-to-grant.
Federal Stimulus Would Reimburse City
As the resolution is written, the money would come from the city’s general fund that was once designated for projects like the Fresno Food Expo — the city spent $62,500 sponsoring for the now-defunct event, various housing funds, and unallocated funds from the sale of property.
Soria is also counting on reimbursement from the federal government. The city will receive approximately $90 million from the CARES Act for COVID-19 related expenses.
“If this is a priority for the city of Fresno, I believe that an early investment is going to help save our economy,” Soria said. “We need to do this. It’s not only a moral imperative to make sure that people can stay housed, but also a necessity so that we prevent businesses from closing before we reopen our local economy right now.”