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Will Lawsuit Force Clovis to Roll Out Welcome Mat to Low-Income Renters?

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“Just because I’m low income doesn’t mean I should have to reside where there are always gunshots,” said Desiree Martinez. She should know. Martinez, who is 48 and disabled, runs a small nonprofit that helps the homeless, and was unhoused herself for three years until she received a rent subsidy that has allowed her to live in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Fresno. “It’s like I’m living in a movie – people jumping fences and running through yards,” Martinez said.

Martinez would prefer to rent in neighboring Clovis, where she had lived as a teenager and later as a young mother, and where she feels safer.

Along with another low income renter with roots in Clovis, Martinez has sued Clovis, its city council and city manager, arguing the city, with its vast tracts of single family homes, unlawfully keeps low income renters and people of color out.

“Under the cover of preserving ‘the Clovis way of life,’ respondents have caved to citizen pressure and “engaged in a systematic effort to prevent the development of affordable housing in the city,” wrote Martinez’s attorneys in their complaint.

Mayor, Drew Bessinger, a retired Clovis police captain and current chief of the Fresno Yosemite International Airport Police Department, rejects the notion.

“We don’t build houses. We can’t force people to build an affordable housing complex if it’s not going to pencil out for them. Since I’ve been involved in politics, I’ve met a lot of developers — they’re not going to lose money.”

Bessinger points to the city’s accessory dwelling unit building program and a new affordable housing complex expected to open next spring.

“It gets frustrating when we get beat up for being rednecks. It’s not fair,” Bessinger added. “I recall rolling pennies. I ate peanut butter sandwiches every day in the police academy. We want to be an inclusive community to people regardless of who they are.”

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