The Fresno City Council will take another try at helping residents facing eviction.
Under the “Eviction Protection Program” to be offered Thursday, the council would direct the City Attorney to hire a contractor to provide legal help for renters facing “unlawful eviction.”
The plan is being introduced by councilmen Nelson Esparza and Tyler Maxwell.
“A local Eviction Protection Program will mitigate the growth of Fresno’s rapidly increasing homeless population in a cost-effective way, by ensuring that tenants are adequately represented when faced with unlawful detainer actions,” Esparza said in a news release.
Currently, state and local law provides for moratoriums on evictions for non-payment, provided proper paperwork is filled out. Those protections end at the end of June.
“The proposed Eviction Protection Program will help safeguard Fresno’s most vulnerable tenants in a time when we are anticipating a wave of evictions across the nation,” Maxwell said.
When the council discussed the plan last month, it received backlash and a City Hall protest from the social justice community, which said the plan does not go far enough.
Alexandra Alvarado, an organizer with Faith in the Valley, is not satisfied with the Esparza/Maxwell plan.
“We find it a little bit unfortunate and deeply concerning that this resolution looks really similar to what was being brought to the dais (when Council President Luis Chavez brought up a proposal.) We don’t think this resolution is going to protect tenants from eviction or from homelessness. And that’s truly what our community needs. They need support and legal representation to help them not lose their home,” Alvarado said.
Advocates are pushing for a Right to Counsel program that would provide taxpayer-funded legal assistance to anyone income-eligible facing eviction.
The resolution does not define unlawful evictions.
“The city attorney’s office has been given all the steps and opportunity to make the determination whether someone’s eviction is illegal or illegal. And that’s concerning because that’s essentially up to a judge. And we want to be able to try to help everyone and not just those that the city determines to be illegal or illegal,” Alvarado said.
The program would not go into place until funding is identified — which Thursday’s plan does not provide.
A spokesman for Esparza and Maxwell say details including how much the program will cost, will come out later this week.
Councilman Miguel Arias says he is inclined to support.
“With the record high evictions already in the city, we’re going to experience a tsunami of homeless residents that the city has no capacity to serve,” Arias said.
Arias said in most eviction proceedings, the tenant is not properly served and thus loses in a default judgment because they did not appear.
Thursday’s proposal builds on the “Rental Mediation Program” Chavez floated in April. His plan called for voluntary mediation before landlords and tenants head to court. While the idea was debated, no vote was taken.
The new plan incorporates “in-house voluntary mediation” as one method to settle disputes.
The city — through federal stimulus funding — has provided rental aid for those facing financial hardships because of COVID.
City Also Plans to Expand Rental Inspections
An additional ordinance by Arias would change and expand the city’s rental inspection program.
The City Council initially created the program in 2017. Since then, 11,000 of 86,000 units have been inspected, according to figures from Arias.
Inspections have gone virtual in the COVID era.
Arias said his changes would reduce the time a landlord has to address health and safety violations from 90 days to 45. It would also allow code enforcement teams to inspect all units in an apartment complex, not just a percentage.
Inspections would take place not only at rental homes and apartments but long-term motel/hotel rentals as well. Arias says they are considering adding mobile home parks as well if legally allowed.
Mobile home park regulation is a state government function.