Fresno’s planning document for housing, adopted in April, fails to comply with California law because it does not adequately address low-income housing needs, a top state official says.
The document, called the housing element, is a requirement of the city’s general plan, Fresno’s blueprint for growth. The housing element, last updated in 2008, lays out what kind of residential development will take place through 2023.
Updating the general plan and its elements has been a key focus of Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s second term in office.
Glen Campora, assistant deputy director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, wrote in an Aug. 11 letter to Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd that the city must revise the document, particularly to better address needs for low-income housing.
Campora addressed several shortfalls.
Each housing element is supposed to include a summary of progress toward implementing the previous plan. The prior element indicated a shortfall of 6,228 housing units for lower-income families. Campora said the new document does not reflect the unfulfilled need for rezoned land to accommodate that many units.
Campora said the element must also identify specific sites for the unmet need. The city has to show how it will ensure the sites meet certain requirements, such as including owner-occupied and rental units for low-income families and having at least 20 units per acre of land.
Certain programs the city outlined also need work, Campora said. On mobile home parks, he said: “While listing resources and providing outreach to owners and tenants are meaningful actions, the program should include additional actions and timelines toward the conservation of mobile home parks such as outreach with nonprofits and assisting with funding applications.”
A new program called Equitable Communities seeks to improve fair housing in Fresno. Campora said the program needs more specific action and timelines, including a real commitment to rezone more housing choices in “high opportunity” areas, which are neighborhoods with qualities including strong public schools and low poverty.
The city declined to make someone available to answer questions. In a written statement, City Attorney Doug Sloan said the city is addressing the state’s requested revisions to the housing element, but he emphasized that Campora’s letter said the city showed “significant progress” and that the element contains “many well-crafted programs.” He said the element will fully comply with state law once those revisions are taken care of.
Ashley Werner, an attorney with the advocacy and legal representation group Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, has paid attention to the city’s housing element adoption process. She said most high-density housing is located in areas of concentrated poverty, and the units are occupied by people of color. Many complexes are near a highway and subject to air pollution and other environmental issues.
Werner said state officials found the city out of compliance during the last housing element cycle. One of the significant issues then was the lack of high-density affordable housing. The city amended the element to include a program that became the subject of a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed by Leadership Counsel on behalf of the nonprofit Familias Addams Por Un Mejor Futuro 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 2008 housing element. The southwest Fresno residents say the city denied them an opportunity to have better housing.
Many Familias Addams residents live in substandard mobile home parks and pay well above half of their income on rent and utilities, Werner said. The mobile homes issue is “totally off the city’s radar,” she said.
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.
Campora’s letter “confirms the same issues that we’ve been raising and that our clients have been raising,” Werner said. “The city is not doing its job under state law to ensure there are adequate sites for affordable housing.”
The Bee investigated substandard housing conditions earlier this year in a special report called “Living in Misery.” The investigation found that the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents live in unhealthy and unsafe apartments, many south of Shaw Avenue.
Werner said low-income families deserve to live in neighborhoods equipped with the amenities all residents enjoy, including parks and grocery stores.
“This is something that could have been addressed a long time ago,” she said. “There’s no reason to be at the point we’re at now, where the state is finding them out of compliance.”