Karla Martinez of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability speaks during a press conference in which a few dozen local folks encouraged City of Fresno leaders to allocate some of the American Rescue Act money to help improve homes and protect the rights of renters. Photo courtesy of Vic Bedoian

Fresno Residents Urge Leaders to Improve Housing 

Karla Martinez of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability speaks during a press conference in which a few dozen local folks encouraged City of Fresno leaders to allocate some of the American Rescue Act money to help improve homes and protect the rights of renters. Photo courtesy of Vic Bedoian

Thanks to money from the American Rescue Act of 2021, Fresno officials have targeted $40 million to improve housing in the city. But many residents, especially in less affluent parts of town, are asking how that money will be spent. And they have a lot to say about the state of housing in the city that they want officials to hear.

Some of them had a chance to express their concerns on a warm summer day in a southeast Fresno neighborhood of neatly modest homes near Winchell Elementary School. It’s a mixed neighborhood of older houses populated by both renters and homeowners. It is a microcosm of Fresno’s broader reality.

At a community-led press conference organized by the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability (LCJA), a few dozen local folks encouraged city leaders to allocate some of that money to help improve homes and protect the rights of renters.

Karla Martinez of the LCJA emphasized the local housing and rental emergency, “The city of Fresno continues to rank at the top of the list for the highest rental increases in the nation with the hottest rental market in the country.

“Families who have lived in Fresno for years are being evicted and displaced. Tenants are forced out of their homes through intimidation, harassment, illegal evictions and constant rental increases.

“Community leaders, residents and families, veterans and young people continue to ask, ‘What will I do and where will I go?’” She pointed out that the City of Fresno should be working with residents to identify solutions.

Araceli Sanábria is a first-time homeowner and has lived in her house for 13 years. “I am a low-income homeowner and like many other homeowners, I want to improve my home but don’t have the income to do so. There are many of us who buy houses with problems because we want to fulfill the dream of having our own home, but it comes at a cost.

“The City should use $3 million of the $40 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to improve and rehabilitate homes here in Fresno. We are always the most forgotten, and that has to change.”

Sanábria said the City could help low-income homeowners like her to weatherize their houses to make them more energy-efficient.

Renters such as Maria Muñoz, who lives in the Jackson community of southeast Fresno, could also use assistance. There’s no air conditioning, and the extreme heat has caused suffering.

Another renter, also named Maria, has lived in her current home for about two years and has seen her rent increase dramatically, despite what she considers the substandard condition of the house. She would like to see housing money go toward helping her landlord make improvements and for the City to adopt rent control.

Even those who can afford to buy an entry-level home in Fresno are having challenges like Maria Flores, a recent immigrant. She couldn’t figure out why the house was too hot or too cold until her construction-worker husband discovered the house had not been insulated. It has taken a three-year effort to install insulation, but she worries about other immigrant families who might not have the resources to take care of a similar problem.

Martinez emphasized the extent of Fresno’s housing crisis, “The experiences are not just happening to the select few in a city where half of the residents are renters. These occurrences are happening on a daily basis.”

On behalf of community residents, she urged leaders to take immediate action on community-identified priorities:

  • $4 million for a fully funded, comprehensive eviction protection program to reduce future costs associated with education for children experiencing homelessness, child welfare, public benefits from job loss and lasting impacts of evictions
  • $2 million for a homeownership opportunities program to provide communities and families with the stability to remain and invest in their neighborhood
  • $2 million for a rental assistance program to strengthen the social safety net and increase economic stability in vulnerable communities
  • A rent stabilization resolution to help keep families in their communities and in their homes
  • $3 million for housing improvement and rehabilitation projects to fund households to conduct weatherization improvements to their home and rehabilitate blighted homes to sell them as affordable housing
  • Local tenant protections from unfair evictions and practices designed to push them out of their apartments

Martinez cautioned that time is of the essence, “American Rescue Plan funding was allocated around two years ago, and they have yet to spend most of that allocation, yet they do have a timeline or else the federal government does need to take back those funds. Folks are struggling now, and they need that help.”

The ideas presented are already familiar—they are part of the “Here to Stay” report that City leaders developed alongside residents to identify priorities and programs that address quality-of-life concerns. Housing advocates planned to present their proposal to the Fresno City Council on Sept. 29 demanding commitment and investment in solving one the city’s most pressing predicaments.

  • Vic Bedoian

    Vic Bedoian is the Central Valley correspondent for KPFA News and a Community Alliance reporter specializing in natural history and environmental justice issues.

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