Residents of a low-income southwest Fresno neighborhood say the city has failed to identify land for affordable housing, denying residents of an opportunity to better housing, and they are suing the city to make it comply with state zoning laws.
The lawsuit filed by Familias Addams Por Un Mejor Futuro, a nonprofit association, and residents Rosalina Carson and Rosalba Cardenas, says the city failed to rezone 700 acres for development of multifamily affordable housing that was in Fresno’s 2009 housing element.
The document was to meet affordable housing needs through 2015, the lawsuit says.
45 percent of all households pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for housing
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According to the city, 45 percent of all households pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for housing, which is considered a cost burden. According to the lawsuit, 24 percent pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing, which is a severe cost burden.
The lawsuit also says the city failed to meet a deadline on Dec. 31 to revise the housing element to include additional land for affordable housing to meet needs through 2023.
The housing element is a requirement of a city general plan. The plan is the blueprint for future growth; the housing element states what kind of residential development will occur.
And the city’s zoning policies are discriminatory, the lawsuit says, denying housing opportunities to people of low incomes, racial and ethnic minorities, families with children and female-headed households in violation of state law.
City leaders deny the allegations.
The city’s failure disproportionately is impacting low-income people of color.
Ashley Werner, lawyer representing southwest Fresno residents
Fresno is not late in submitting a revised housing element and has until the end of April to do so, City Attorney Douglas Sloan said. The revised document will replace the 2009 housing element and “the former will be mooted at that point,” Sloan said.
The city needed to complete a new general plan, development code and zoning update before it could finish the housing element, Sloan said. The City Council approved the general plan in December 2014, the development code this past November and passed the zoning map update two weeks ago.
“No jury or judge is going to find any pattern of discrimination where we are making available affordable housing opportunities,” Sloan said. Fresno has allocated land for affordable housing throughout the city, he said. “There’s sufficient capacity, it’s well distributed and we’re within our time to get it done here.”
Familias Addams attorney. Ashley Werner of the Leadership Counsel for Justice, said the city is late in submitting the revised housing element. “There’s no getting around that.” And Werner said: “The city’s failure disproportionately is impacting low-income people of color.”
Werner said the city’s “pattern of low-density, single-family housing primarily in the north is unchanged.” The lawsuit, filed Feb. 2 in Fresno County Superior Court, says the city disproportionately allocates more land for higher density housing in southwest, southeast and central Fresno, “contributing to economic and racial segregation in the city of Fresno.”
According to the lawsuit, the delay in rezoning for affordable housing “falls disproportionately on Latinos and other racial and ethnic minorities in Fresno, and it deprives those families of the opportunity to live in decent housing and to move to housing in better neighborhoods.”
No jury or judge is going to find any pattern of discrimination where we are making available affordable housing opportunities.
Douglas Sloan, Fresno city attorney
In Fresno, 35 percent of African American households pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing, the lawsuit says. And 27 percent of Hispanics and 21 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders are severely cost-burdened while 18 percent of Caucasian households pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs.
According to the lawsuit, the lack of affordable housing in Fresno “has limited the housing choice of members of Familias Addams who want to live in, but are unable to find affordable housing options, other than trailers in Fresno.”
Carson and Cardenas were not available for interviews, but Maria Guzmán, a member of Familias Addams, said she lived in an apartment near Olive and Palm avenues for eight years and liked the neighborhood because she could walk safely, bus transportation was available and grocery stores were nearby.
She wanted to buy a home in the city with a backyard for her children, but she could not find a house she could afford, she said. Four years ago the family bought a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house in a county island near Marks and Olive.
They made a $5,000 down payment for the $40,000 home, Guzmán said. The house had a leaky roof, the laundry room was unfinished, the bathroom pipes were clogged and the wall between her bedroom and the bathroom had water damage, she said.
Their new home is in a neighborhood with no sidewalks, her children can’t walk to school, grocery stores are far away and there is no bus line nearby, she said.
Guzmán said she doesn’t want Fresno to expand, but “there are many plots of land within the city. We want them to be improved.”
Fresno spokesman Mark Standriff said the city is working toward the same goal as community organizations, such as the Leadership Counsel, to make affordable housing more accessible to residents. “We want housing distributed in places where people want to live.”
Mayor Ashley Swearengin agreed. “I think we’re trying to get to the same place, the city and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. I do think we’re all trying to pull on the same end of the rope.”