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Manteca could take a cue from Santa Cruz

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POSTED January 4, 2010 1:23 a.m.

Santa Cruz is definitely a much more expensive place to live than Manteca.

A virtual tear down of 600 square feet on a 2,000-square-foot lot at the height of the housing market frenzy cost $400,000 in the seaside city.

If affordable new housing is a joke in Manteca it is an oxymoron in Santa Cruz. There are a ton of things working against affordable housing including aggressive environmentalists and a market that makes Manteca look like its lethargic.

Yet Santa Cruz started to make inroads into its affordable housing crisis in 2005 through what they refer to as ADUs or accessory dwelling units.

The ADUs are essentially granny flats or second dwellings on existing residential lots.

Back in the 1980s legislators reacted to what was then viewed as an affordable housing crisis by passing a law requiring cities to allow such units.

Naturally, every conceivable road block and then some has been tossed in the path of any effort to convert the state’s intent into reality.

Manteca, to its credit, has several true modular homes that were put in place under the law. So it isn’t outright hostility in Manteca, but other issues such as knowing you can even build such dwellings, how to go about it and financing have made such units extremely tough to pursue.

Santa Cruz identified those as major impediments to its ADU program.

So what they did was have the redevelopment agency team up with a credit union to assist homeowners - who often already have a mortgage to contend with - devise a financing package that made a new structure or a true garage conversion work.

But before that could happen, Santa Cruz had to come to grips with reality and realize there weren’t very many other realistic alternatives to pursuing affordable housing.

Manteca isn’t exactly in denial as they have by default allowed some things to go that aren’t kosher. There are more than a handful of McMansions around Manteca that are occupied by two unrelated families or - in some cases - have multi-tenants sharing the same home. It’s a fact. It’s illegal.

And it’s the way it is.

No one is suggesting the city take steps to make sure R-1 zones designed for single family homes (which means occupied by a single family) are complying with municipal laws.

But the city can certainly take steps to improve Manteca’s affordability when it comes to new housing or even rentals when the market starts heating up again.

The city needs to recognize what Santa Cruz did. Established neighborhoods near the central district are the most effective locations for smart growth. They are near transit locations, shopping, schools, libraries and other amenities. People can walk to where they need to go.

Manteca, however, doesn’t make it easy to build granny flats. Add to it the difficulty of securing financing and you can see why it is an idea that caught on about as much as a balanced state budget.

Santa Cruz has removed those roadblocks and actually encourages people to build such second dwellings. In 2005 they got up to an average of eight such ADUs every three months. Many were built by families so their children don’t have to flee the city in order to afford a place to rent.

As things stand now, affordable housing will not happen in Manteca any time soon. Sure, the City Council is looking at ways of jump starting the housing market but they are aiming that towards making traditional single family homes affordable by simply shrinking them. There is a real need for mini-homes, if you will. No one has addressed that yet in Manteca.

City leaders talk the talk about affordable housing. But that’s about it. They haven’t really done much that changes the development patterns – or the housing options – that have dominated Manteca since the late 1970s.

It’s one thing to say you believe in affordable housing, it’s another thing to do something about it.

Manteca has a lot on its plate but with the way the council talks about the need for affordable housing it has to rank up there as a top priority.

So why not do something about it instead of hoping, wishing and praying developers – who have gone from a feeding frenzy to get sewer allocations to build more McMansions to shrinking the McMansion and cutting back to basics and dropping upgrades to stimulate sales in the weak economy - will do something about true affordable housing?

It will take thinking out of the box and political will.

The question is does anyone capable of doing so on the City Council?

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com


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