As Fresno lawmakers tackle a growing housing affordability crisis, a push to enact sweeping changes to the rental housing market developed last year by housing advocates is likely to set the terms of debate.
The largest looming question: will Fresno become the fifth of California’s 13 largest cities to enact rent control?
In February, the Fresno City Council will consider 15 policies that were recommended in the “Here to Stay” report, which was authored by the Thrivance Group, a land use consulting firm that develops municipal land use plans “in the interest of a racialized people, to bring transformative justice into public policy, urban planning, and community development.”
The firm compiled 46 recommendations in the “Here to Stay” report last June at the request of the Fresno City Council.
Those 46 recommendations were narrowed down to 15 policies through the public comment discourse to be reviewed by the council will first review on Feb. 10.
With the burgeoning housing discussion set to take center stage at City Hall, Dyer penned a letter last November to the city’s planning manager Sophia Pagoulatos, who recently presented the 15 recommendations to the city’s planning commission.
“At the City of Fresno, we believe everyone has value. Because of people’s inherent value, we believe each person’s voice matters. As such, I applaud any undertaking that creates avenues for community members to be heard,” Dyer wrote.
“By way of our Transformative Climate Communities effort, the City is working with the Thrivance Group to ensure public discourse on the anti-displacement topic. Displacing people for any reason is contrary to the core of my One Fresno Vision and will be detrimental to the City’s future.”
Out of the 15 policy recommendations, Dyer wrote that he is fully supportive of eight, willing to explore six of them under certain parameters and is only outright opposed to one: the establishment of a program to subsidize rental deposits.
Dyer said the creation of a rental deposit system under the city’s supervision “could be seen as government overreach into private real estate transactions.” He also noted that the city would be more susceptible to liability for mediating the release of deposit funds.
Dyer’s stance on rent control falls in the middle tier as something that he could support, but only if the right conditions are met.
In his November letter, Dyer noted that rents in Fresno increased by 23.1 percent year-over-year, far above the 11.6 percent average in California and the national average of 15.1 percent.
While Dyer is happy that Fresno is growing and is sought out as a desirable place to live, he argued that, if left unchecked, supply and demand may lead to many residents being priced out of the local market.
“I believe in a free and unhampered market,” his letter reads. “However, IF [emphasis his] local government is able to subsidize rents for a subset of landlords, with the condition that their units remain affordable for a specific period of time, I believe there may be some potential at some point to explore this option.”
“In fact, I am recommending allocating $1 million this fiscal year in American Rescue Plan funding to this effort. Landlord access to these funds will be voluntary and must be utilized for property improvements in exchange for affordability covenants.”
Additional policy recommendations favored by Dyer include creating homeowner and renter assistance programs, forming of land trusts, implementing right-to-counsel in eviction proceedings, increasing local hire and minimum wage requirement on contracts, developing environmental justice and climate resiliency planning, enacting a moratorium on homeless encampment sweeps, and building dignified tiny house villages with scattered sites.
There are also three recommendations that did not make the top 15 cut that Dyer is fully supportive of, namely a GeoHub platform to provide Fresno residents with full access to planning and development data, along with a “language justice clearinghouse” described as a stable of independent contractor translators, and increased coordination with social services agencies to find housing for youth aged 16 to 24 on the verge of homelessness.
The policies that Dyer is willing to support under the right conditions are – in addition to rent control – fair chance housing, a Department of Anti-Displacement and Homelessness Intervention, public health impact reports, the Right to Return Home and Fresno-specific universal design standards.