Standing amid a new housing development in progress on the outskirts of southwest Fresno, city councilmembers Esmeralda Soria, Miguel Arias, and Luis Chavez unveiled a new housing plan on Wednesday.
The No Place Like Home initiative will be on the agenda at Thursday’s council meeting, which will focus on Fresno’s housing crisis.
The plan hopes to help middle-class families mostly living in west Fresno achieve homeownership.
“New homes really means new neighborhoods where families can be able to invest, grow and thrive,” said Soria.
“But in order for our middle-class families to be able to realize that American dream of homeownership, our city has a duty to step up and operate like a lifeline for hardworking families now more than ever before.”
What Does the Housing Plan Promise?
The plan focuses on four different components to bring more low-cost affordable housing to Fresno.
The first component addresses first-time homebuyers, and the second hopes to increase housing stock with tiny home villages.
The third and fourth planks involve strengthening community development in southwest Fresno and reforming the city’s broken planning process, respectively.
Financing help for the plan would come from one-time federal relief funds of up to $5 million.
Housing Proposal Mirrors Dyer’s Efforts
This housing initiative is similar to the recommendations in Mayor Jerry Dyer’s One Fresno housing plan.
However, councilmembers say this plan makes sure to take immediate action and addresses the displacement of Fresno families, which the mayor’s plan does not.
“The mayor’s One Housing strategy has dozens and dozens of recommendations as part of it and it’s a compilation of a series of actions that have been taking place for 20 or 30 years in our city,” said Arias.
“We’re hopeful that our proposal is about taking immediate action and committing dollars today versus doing it over a long period of time.”
First-time Homebuyer Assistance
To help first-time homebuyers, the city would utilize part of the $5 million to establish a downpayment assistance program geared toward families.
Families making up to $120,000 annually, and who have lived in Fresno for the past five years, would qualify for a $15,000 grant.
The grants would be at 0% interest for five years and then be forgiven.
Interested families would have to be first-time homebuyers and the home purchase would have to be their primary residence.
Tiny Homes as Starter Homes
Chavez says the city’s housing shortage is magnified by population growth, and one fix is building tiny homes.
According to the latest census data, Fresno grew by about 48,000 people with the majority of that growth occurring on south side.
“That means that in that part of town, we have to come up with innovative housing strategies that accommodate the most people,” said Chavez. “Beautiful single-home residentials are great, but not everybody can afford them.”
According to Chavez, a tiny home built in Fresno can range anywhere from $45,000 to $55,000 as opposed to a starter single-family home that is $250,000 to $300,000 — or higher.
“You start there, you work hard, you save your money, and then you can sell that and move into one of these much bigger homes as your family grows,” said Chavez.
“That’s what I’m really envisioning, creating a housing pipeline for south Fresno and making sure that we have all of these options for our residents, whatever their income level is.”
Housing With a Focus on Southwest Fresno Residents
Arias says giving priority to southwest families is of the utmost importance because they are quite often outbid and priced out of homes by other families coming in from Visalia, Madera, and even from Sacramento and the Bay Area.
Part of the housing initiative proposes a $1 million partnership with the Southwest Fresno Community Development Corp.
“We’ve heard for years from advocates that are here with us today and from residents that dislocation and gentrification are real and it occurs when redevelopment takes place,” said Arias.
The hope, added Arias, is to transition these residents from long-term renters into homeowners where they won’t be forced to relocate to other parts of the city.
Speeding up the Planning and Permit Process
The last component would focus on reforming the planning and permitting process.
While state laws have changed, Arias said, Fresno’s planning regulations have not kept pace. He recommends that the council form a committee to approve housing projects without so many delays.
“Most people don’t know that it takes at least two years to get the finance and permitting department to build a home, make a subdivision or a master plan,” said Arias.
“We’re committed to shortening that time in making sure that projects that come in for development, whether they’re creating jobs or new housing opportunities, whether they’re affordable or market rate, get through the planning and permitting process much faster.”