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Fresno Population Growth Triples Forecasts. Will That Bring More New Housing?
gvw_edward_smith
By Edward Smith
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 29, 2024

Counties with affordable housing stock are again attracting coastal residents and driving population growth in California for the first time since before the pandemic. (GV Wire Composite/David Rodriguez)

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Demographers counted something not seen in California since before the pandemic — growth in the Golden State’s population.

But within the state, affordability still has people searching for housing that is a bargain compared to California’s median price of more than $900,000. Thus, hybrid work assignments are powering the counties with the best housing options — including large homes — to the biggest growth.

Estimates showed positive numbers in all of the factors that drive population growth: more immigration, less emigration, and more births versus deaths, according to the California Department of Finance’s 2023 population report on April 30.

Fresno County’s .6% population growth beat the previous forecast by nearly double, driven by migration from other parts of the state, according to state demographer Walter Schwarm with the state Department of Finance. And, .7% growth in the city of Fresno more than triples the .2% annual expected growth.

This growth collides with a City Hall decision to pause housing development in Fresno’s Southeast Development Area because of lagging population numbers. Fresno officials will bring up the positive population numbers in their next discussion about SEDA.

“We see growth beyond what was expected in most of the Central Valley,” Schwarm said in an email to GV Wire. “With the rise of remote work (and in particular hybrid work) we note an increasing number of moves to counties that are either more affordable or have a different set of amenities (larger homes/larger yards/less dense) while still allowing workers to occasionally return to their coastal county of work.”

Housing Affordability a Boon to Counties

Fresno’s growth trails only Bakersfield among the 10 largest cities in California.

At the county level, Tulare and Madera’s .9% growth beat the Fresno County rate because of those counties’ housing availability, Schwarm said.

“Madera’s growth is largely based in housing unit growth, although there was some decline in vacancy rates,” Schwarm said. “I think this fits the hybrid work model as some second homes are now primary residences and there is a proportion of the population that is commuting occasionally to the Bay Area.”

California’s population is growing for the first time since the pandemic. (California Department of Finance)

Cheaper housing in Tulare County attracted spillover from Bakersfield, Schwarm said.

“Individuals (are) being priced out of the Bakersfield market, moving to cheaper housing in Tulare while maintaining employment in Kern,” Schwarm said.

Buyers Looking for Yards: FAR

Schwarm said large homes and yards were deciding factors in where to move. The president-elect of the Fresno Association of Realtors, Carmen Jimenez Phillips, affirmed that finding.

“From talking to buyers over the years and especially in the last 6-12 months buyers are always in search of larger yards and more home square footage because they spend more time at home,” Jimenez Phillips said. “Many people still work from home — some 10-hour workdays four days a week.”

A frequent comment from buyers is that many want older homes for their larger lots, she said.

Out-of-town buyers look to the Central Valley for those lower densities. For that same reason, many families look to single-family homes rather than apartments.

“Because many people have children or pets, a home and a yard are important,” Jimenez Phillips said. “This is also one reason more subdivisions have walking areas/trails.”

Fresno Triples Population Forecasts

In Fresno, vacancy rates have been on the decline for the past five years, dipping from 5.66% in 2020 to 5.61% in 2024.

To meet new housing demands, Fresno has for nearly two decades been looking at a plan to develop 9,000 acres in southeast Fresno, called the Southeast Development Area. When fully built out, it could result in 45,000 new housing units.

Building out in rural southeast not only requires property owners to be on board, but also needs a $90 million investment upfront from developers to bring water and sewer lines to the area, according to a city estimate.

Fresno County population growth beat forecast. (California Department of Finance)

Because of the necessary investment and the then-lagging population numbers, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer in January said he would not support the city releasing the environmental impact report for the area. The population growth projection for the city at the time was .2%.

Dyer said he wanted to see positive population numbers before committing to SEDA investment. City officials did not respond to a request for comment from GV Wire.

“I am not comfortable with implementing any City-led development or capital improvements until population growth thresholds have been sufficiently addressed,” Dyer said at the time.

City to Consider Population Counts in Next SEDA Discussion

Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez said southeast Fresno has absorbed most of the city’s growth. He said 41% of all growth has been in southeast Fresno.

“The vast majority of the growth that happened in the city of Fresno was in southeast Fresno,” Chavez said. The city has a SEDA workshop planned for Thursday, June 6. They will discuss the population increases, Chavez said.

Even with population growth numbers, Chavez said homebuilders’ strategy to finance infrastructure investments needs to be answered. Many farmers in southeast Fresno have also objected to growth in the area, not wanting to see legacy farms developed.

“I’m going to invite the (Building Industry Association) folks to come in, explain what their plans are for growth, for homebuilding, and all that,” Chavez said.

A map shows how the 9,000 acres in the Southeast Development Area could be zoned when fully developed. (City of Fresno)

Housing, Immigration Boosting Populations

Housing drove population growth throughout the state. Following population numbers, the number of housing units grew .79% statewide, according to the state Finance Department. The counties with the most housing growth were Yuba, Placer, Madera, Butte, San Benito, Glenn, Tulare, Yolo, Riverside, and Solano.

Immigration also played a role in the population rise. Legal migration brought in 114,200 in 2023, compared to 90,300 in 2022, near pre-pandemic levels.

Migration out of the state slowed to one-quarter its 2021 rate.

Deaths also fell following their pandemic peak. Natural population increase in California — births versus deaths — increased to 118,400 in 2023 from 106,700 in 2022.

The Finance Department will publish its population projections again this summer. Schwarm said to expect an increase in Fresno and Tulare counties’ numbers because of the growth recorded.

“Population growth and housing growth do not have to exactly line up, but over that longer run, some balance is required for the housing stock to remain relatively affordable,” Schwarm said. “Increasing unaffordability tends to slow or even reverse population growth.”

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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