Written by Gabriel Dillard
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson awarded $450,000 to the Housing Authority of the City of Fresno to revitalize the California Avenue neighborhood in Southwest Fresno.
The grant was given to 11 other neighborhoods in the country, totaling nearly $5 million in grants to revitalize communities. Fresno is the only city on the West Coast to receive the grant.
“The actual redevelopment is years away, but this gives us a planning grant to really engage community members and our residents about what can happen and to work with them as we create a plan,” said Fresno Housing Authority president/CEO Preston Prince.
The funds through HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods program will give local leaders the ability to transform neighborhoods struggling with distressed housing, inadequate schools, poor health, high crime and historic disinvestment.
“The plan is not just about housing,” Prince said. The community will join efforts with Fresno community leaders to focus on surrounding schools and vacant land for commercial and retail space.
While the focus of the revitalization will be Sierra Plaza and Fairview Heights Terrace, the Fresno Housing Authority is investing in Southwest Fresno as a whole.
“So many times in west Fresno and other parts of Fresno, there are these theoretical conversations about addressing poverty or wealth creation within a community, and with this planning grant it’s tangible,” he said.
Prince defined it as a “planning grant.” The grant will pay for planning and community engagement, with plans to renovate the Southwest Fresno neighborhoods in years to come.
“Today’s grants will help to jump start the plans for immense positive change in eleven of our Nation’s often-neglected neighborhoods,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “I look forward to seeing their plans come to fruition as we help to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and set our neighbors back onto a path of self-sufficiency.”
The California Avenue neighborhood has historically been disconnected from the rest of the city due to redlining practices. Today, the neighborhood has a 60% poverty rate, and the grant is a step toward prioritizing housing, people and the neighborhood. Life expectancy is also 20 years lower in the 93706 zip code than in North Fresno.
“This grant’s going to help us engage the community to create the transformation plan, and then we’ve got to figure out how to pay for it,” Prince said.
Prince is hopeful for the investment in west Fresno as community members put action to plans.
“This isn’t just a plan that gets put on the shelf; this isn’t just a plan where people get to talk about what they want and it doesn’t get built,” Prince said. “We’ve got the track record and we’ve got the history. So it’s really just about not just the pie in the sky, but real concrete development.”