‘Point of breakage’: Fresno lawmakers wrestle with options to alleviate housing crisis

Facing a choice of rent control or “building your way out,” California’s fifth-largest city may wind up taking a Goldy Locks approach to solving its housing issues.

Two proposals to fix Fresno’s housing crisis took center stage at City Hall Wednesday. 

The council listened to presentations of the “Here to Stay” report and Mayor Jerry Dyer’s One Fresno Housing Plan.


The Here to Stay report, authored by the Thrivance Group, previously submitted 15 policy recommendations for the city to implement, including a moratorium on encampment sweeps, environmental justice and climate resiliency planning, homeowner and renter assistance programs, deposit programs and tiny house villages. 

The Here to Stay Report most notably included a call for rent control beyond what is already state-mandated, drawing considerable opposition from local rental housing owners already governed by an overlapping set of state laws.

Dyer’s strategy includes developing a government-led land bank to acquire vacant parcels of land for housing development, raising business license fees on landlords, continuing to leverage the emergency rental assistance program, developing a land trust and aiding accessory dwelling unit development, among dozens of other proposals. 

His proposal caught considerable flack heading into Wednesday’s meeting over a claim that Fresno had 28,310 more houses than it needed, a claim that housing advocates of virtually every stripe have disputed.

In the end, Fresno may wind up finding its solution to housing issues through a methodical, Goldy Locks approach centered on drawing from both proposals, picking and choosing parts of each to create a strategy suited for the city’s needs.

“If you follow public policy in this city, you probably are aware that it’s very rare that the council would just take any proposal at face value without modifying it and making it our own as something that better reflects the will of the residents that we represent across the city,” Council President Nelson Esparza said. “So I think that’s likely to happen here in the forthcoming future.” 

After hours of public comment, which included heat directed toward Dyer and the council from housing advocates for not doing enough to curb the crisis, Councilman Miguel Arias kicked off the conversation on the dais. 

Arias argued against for a market-driven, hands-off approach to the housing market, saying it will not solve the crisis. 

Instead he argued for a more middle of the road approach. 

“We cannot build ourselves out of this crisis. Clearly four decades of doing that has gotten us to this point of breakage. What I’ve heard from the advocates is do everything to protect the affordability of the current market, but don’t build any new inventory. That’s also not a solution,” Arias said. 

“We have a growing population. None of the recommendations in the Here to Stay report result in new inventory being built immediately. It’s about preserving the affordability of the current housing stock, which I appreciate that that’s the goal of the Here to Stay report. I’m looking at the One Fresno report, and the value for me is that it finally documents the fact that we are in a housing crisis and the free market has made it worse, not better.” 

On the other hand, Councilman Luis Chavez argued that the city can build its way out of the crisis. 

“I disagree a little bit with some of my colleagues,” Chavez said. “I think this is a problem that we can literally build ourselves out of, because I’ve seen it done in the past.” 

Chavez also addressed what he called the “elephant in the room”: the lack of a regional approach to the housing conversation. 

“I don’t want – for the sake of us developing a plan that I think sounds great on paper – we actually push out development to Madera, which we know that that Tesoro Viejo project and the projects that are popping up next to them is actually going to lead to more income flight in the City of Fresno, more pollution from those folks that commute,” Chavez said. 

“We already have quite a few of those individuals who have gone on to those housing developments for a number of reasons… The last thing that I want to do is for us to adopt policies that actually push people out and make those commutes even longer. We already know we have an air quality problem. Let’s not do something that’s going to make that more so.” 

Councilman Garry Bredefeld focused part of the discussion on fixing the city’s general plan. 

“We need to change our general plan. We need to open up so we can allow this development,” Bredefeld said. 

“We need to remove all the regulations that stop development, or slow it. It isn’t about government spending and creating new programs. It’s having good common sense pro-business pro-development policies, and frankly government getting out of the way of the private sector.”

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