FRESNO, Calif. — After five years of planning and months of construction delays, first-time developer Vincent Ricchiuti was ready to open his luxury apartment complex. Then came the pandemic.
“We thought it was the worst time you could imagine,” Ricchiuti said about the grand opening in spring 2020.
Turns out he didn’t need to worry. His project, the Row, was opening in the nation’s hottest housing market: Fresno.
Within months, Ricchiuti had rented all 255 of the Row’s apartments and townhomes, even though its one-bedrooms go for as much as $2,600 a month — a price rivaling those in Los Angeles beach communities.
“We opened, and all of a sudden, here came the masses,” he said.
Over the last four years, no large U.S. city has seen greater increases in rent than Fresno. California’s fifth-biggest city, it’s an agricultural powerhouse on the doorstep of Yosemite National Park but often is thought of as a highway rest stop midway between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Because of its pollution and poverty, Fresno makes regular appearances on lists of America’s worst places to live.
Yet since 2017, average rent for homes in Fresno is up nearly 39% to $1,289 a month, according to real estate firm Apartment List. That includes a 12% increase during the pandemic, the opposite of what has occurred in Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco, where rents have plummeted.
While Fresno’s costs have soared, they’re still low enough to provide a respite for people moving from pricier locales. But they have become a crushing burden to the region’s tens of thousands of low-income families.
Even though the Central Valley is one of the country’s most agriculturally rich areas, it’s one of California’s poorest. Fresno’s median household income is $58,000 — nearly 30% below the state average.
Many blue-collar and service workers and farmworkers who lost their jobs amid the pandemic are facing possible eviction and feel trapped in substandard homes because higher costs elsewhere make it impossible for them to leave.