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Fresno has some of the lowest apartment rents. It’s still not cheap for low-income renters

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Christina Husbands of the Fresno Housing Authority talks about a proposed mixed-use residential and retail project on Blackstone Avenue in central Fresno, and what plans like it could mean for revitalizing Blackstone Avenue.
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Christina Husbands of the Fresno Housing Authority talks about a proposed mixed-use residential and retail project on Blackstone Avenue in central Fresno, and what plans like it could mean for revitalizing Blackstone Avenue.

Renting an apartment in Fresno got more expensive in the past year — though it’s still cheaper to live here than most other California cities.

A new report on apartment rental rates by RENTCafe.com showed the average apartment rent in Fresno in January was $1,048 per month.

That was up 6.2 percent from January 2018 – the fifth highest rate of increase among cities with populations between 300,000 and 600,000. It was one of the highest rates of year-over-year rent increases among mid-sized U.S. cities.

The RENTCafe report only covers apartment buildings with 50 or more units, and does not include subsidized apartments for low-income families.

The Fresno, Clovis and Bakersfield markets offer the three lowest average rent prices among the 62 California cities included in the report. Rents are higher – in some instances, much higher – in other parts of the state, particularly the larger, more populous metropolitan coastal areas in northern and southern California.

That corresponds to an observation by Doug Ressler, the director of business intelligence for Yardi Matrix, the company that provides data for RENTCafe. “The attractiveness of large coastal, knowledge-intensive metro areas will persist, but high prices will drive some residents to smaller metro areas away from the coasts,” Ressler said. “Demand for apartments in attractive areas will remain strong, driven by the strength of the local economies.”

The cities with the six highest average apartment rent prices in California, for example, are all in the San Francisco Bay Area, from San Francisco as the most expensive at $3,609 per month to Oakland at No. 6 at $2,687 per month.

And while Fresno’s rate of increase was high among mid-sized U.S. cities, it was only 40th nationwide among all sizes of cities and behind 13 other California cities.

The RENTCafe study is only the latest estimate of rent affordability, but it is limited because it only counts large apartment complexes with at least 50 units. More comprehensive estimates, however, confirm that Fresno and Fresno County have among the lowest rents in California, making the region more affordable than most of the rest of the state.

Data from Zillow.com, a real estate research firm, reports that the average rent across all apartments available in Fresno is the second lowest among California’s 20 largest cities at $975 per month. That’s the median, or midpoint, at which half of apartments cost more and half cost less as of October 2018. For single-family rental houses, Fresno’s median rent is the lowest of the 20 cities at $1,346 per month.

But in Fresno County, a region long afflicted by lower-than-average household incomes, higher poverty rates and higher unemployment than most of California, what’s “affordable” is a relative term.

Under federal housing guidelines, housing costs are considered “affordable” for families if they are spending no more than 30 percent of their gross income on rent or a mortgage and utilities for the home. If their housing and utilities cost more than that, a household is considered to be “rent-burdened.”

And in Fresno County, almost 60 percent of renter households fall into that rent-burdened category, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In some parts of the county, the proportion is far higher – more than three quarters of all renter households in some census tracts.

In some lower income tiers, in which household incomes are less than $20,000 a year, about 70 percent of Fresno County households spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities.

Zoom in or out on the map above and click on a Fresno County census tract to see the share of rental households that are “rent burdened” (spending 30 percent or more of their income on rent and utilities). Green: 20 percent or fewer; yellow: 20 to 40 percent; orange: 40 to 60 perent; red: more than 60 percent of households. Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, 5-year estimates 2013-2017. Map: Tim Sheehan / The Fresno Bee

Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.


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