Officials hope a $500,000 fund created by the Fresno City Council last week will spark new affordable housing projects for families whose income falls below the average for the area.
The move is part of a larger effort to build 10,000 affordable housing units by 2010, known as the "10-by-10 plan." Mayor Alan Autry launched the plan in 2006.
The fund created by the council won't pay to build houses. Instead, the money will be used to lower housing costs by paying fees that developers normally pass along to home buyers.
In addition, the money will be used to encourage the development of affordable rentals, also by paying developer fees.
Part of the fund is set aside to educate potential home buyers about affordable housing options, and to find matching funds from government sources.
"It is seed money," said Michael Sigala, housing and community development manager for Fresno. "The idea -- especially since this is a small pot of money -- is to leverage what we do have to the maximum extent possible, and in many different ways."
The fund will enable the city to offer help that is not available under some other programs that help first-time home buyers, Sigala said.
For example, money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development can't be used for moderate-income families, those who make more than 80% of the median income. The city's new program, however, allows up to 10% of the fund to be used by moderate-income families.
One affordable-housing advocate praised the City Council for creating the fund, but at the same time urged Fresno todo more.
"I applaud them for setting a goal, but I would like to see them putting more resources [toward] helping address the problem," said Nathan Magsig, a Clovis City Council member and executive director of the Fresno-based Coalition for Urban Renewal Excellence, a nonprofit public benefit corporation that builds and rehabilitates homes for low-income families.
Magsig said that even if Fresno receives two-to-one matching funds on the $500,000, it would still only help about 150 families.
"To build 10,000 units, they will need a variety of programs, from helping with developer fees, to providing 'silent second' mortgages for some families," Magsig said, referring to government-subsidized second mortgages. "Those silent seconds provide up to $75,000 in interest-free loans to families, and have been successful."
Sigala said he believes the city is making good progress toward its goal.
"We are focused on the number of families assisted," Sigala said. "We help at least 500 families a year find affordable housing."