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Manteca challenge: Blight in newer neighborhoods

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POSTED January 27, 2010 1:24 a.m.
It’s a classic early 21st century Manteca neighborhood.

Most homes are over 3,000 square feet. They are primarily stucco with tile roofs. Many have three-car garages and grand two-story entries.

Yet there are signs that all is not will.

One particular home in this popular neighborhood near Woodward Park has had a family living in it for most of 2009. The grass, though, is still dead. A neighbor will tell you that there is a fairly big pile of rubbish in the back yard.

This home isn’t headed for foreclosure. Instead, it was bought in early 2009 by an investor. The family is renting.

It is an ominous sign as far as some real estate agents and city leaders are concerned.

The year 2008 saw mostly Manteca and valley residents buy most of the 1,165 existing homes that became available in Manteca thanks to the foreclosure mess. Many bought as the median price of homes were on the way down. Some called them foolish as prices would drop further. Prices did. But now that 2009 has come to a close those 2008 buyers who bought and technically lost money in 2009 because home prices slid backwards even farther after buying them are looking pretty smart.

Just ask any first-time buyer who tried to purchase a home in the last eight months of 2009. Investors were acing everyone out with all cash offers.

Some were taking homes that couldn’t be sold to first time buyers due to their condition and FHA requirements, fixing them up, and then flipping them. Others were bought by long-time investors with a proven track record managing and maintaining single family homes. A small, but growing number, are going to investors who essentially just buy and rent with little regards to screening tenants or maintaining property.

By and large most renters are responsible as are landlords.

There is a real fear that the amount of investors buying in Manteca neighborhoods – especially the newer ones – will plant the permanent seeds of blight.

An alarming trend emerged in the past year. Easily more than half of the 1,211 existing homes that sold in Manteca in 2009 went to investors.

It is effectively reversing the trend prior to 2005 when nearly 70 percent of Manteca homes were owner occupied. Not all homeowners treat their property with tender loving care.

Lax property maintenance, though, is just a symptom. The real problem is disconnection with the neighborhood and the community. Rare are long-term renters who take pride in a neighborhood and are active in the community. It’s not that they don’t care. Common sense suggests homeownership changes one’s perspective.

It is the reason behind the generous tax deduction for mortgage on both federal and state income tax. Home ownership is thought to stabilize communities.

Even so, some get an over inflated view as homeowners. They believe they pay more taxes those renters which isn’t necessarily the case. Renters simply pay the property taxes of their landlords without the benefit of deductions on their income taxes.

Home ownership certainly makes one more aware of taxes and therefore sharpens your concern on how tax dollars are spent. That leads to a more active role in a community’s politics. When people think long-term and put down roots they realize they have a big investment as the house, neighborhood and community they live in are truly their home.

It’s tough to place a value on such an attitude although social scientists have tried to quantify it with terms such as “more engaged citizens.”

Those who are more engaged are less likely to let their property get rundown. They tend to vote. They tend to look out for neighbors. They support non-profits and the schools. They volunteer.

Again, there are renters who do that as well but when push comes to shove it is a characteristic that is stronger with homeowners than with renters.

That means everyone has a huge stake in making sure those who rent property do so with the same type of concern as someone who owns their own home.

It is important to remember that landlords are running businesses with the goal of making a profit. And as such, landlords should be held to the same standards the city expects of other businesses.
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