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Affordable housing: Manteca needs to think like Mr. Potter

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POSTED February 7, 2010 2:10 a.m.
Affordable housing is all the rage. Politicians want it. Builders want it. Home buyers want it.

But what is it?

Some don’t like providing smaller lots to accommodate affordable housing since there is no place to park RVs.

Others want affordable housing but don’t want higher density. (Read that, “they don’t want duplexes and apartments.”)

Making the mix all the more interesting are those who demand affordable housing for their kids so they can stay in the Manteca area after leaving the nest but who in the next breath scream bloody murder about growth.

So what does a City Council do?

No problem. They simply call in the ultimate authority in affordable housing - Mr. Potter of “It’s a Wonderful Life” fame.

Mr. Potter wasn’t a starry-eyed idealist like that George Bailey. Mr. Potter was a realist. He understood what drove up the price of homes - curbs, gutters, paved streets, parks, schools, storm drains, running water, sidewalks, appliances, trees, yards, garages, heating and conditioning, building codes, indoor plumbing, and zoning laws. Heaven only wonders what the Frank Capra character would have thought of the California Environmental Quality Act and growth caps not to mention the lofty goal of home ownership for the masses.

Let Mr. Potter break a few rules. He’d get affordable housing for Manteca.

Here are a few examples:


For this subdivision, Mr. Potter had his designers appeal to those home buyers who want affordability while meeting the criteria that subdivisions don’t accelerate farmland conversion.

Each home is placed on an acre with plenty of room to grow corn, barley or Manteca-style tumbleweeds. To cut corners, utility services such as phone service are accessed atop a telephone pole.

It’s a “Mr. Haney approved” energy efficient home with plenty of heat and plenty of cool air thanks to the innovative “missing wall” design. So what if the cold air is in the winter and the hot air is in summer? The issue here is being able to have affordability while keeping the countryside intact.

Of course, neighborhood rules and restrictions require junked cars on the front lawn, Toters in front of the garage in full view of the street, a used appliance or couch on the porch and weeds growing faster than corn.

The models include:

•McDUMP: A misnomer, since a trash can at McDonald’s is normally cleaner. This comes with a fully landscaped front yard - six cars and dead grass. The home itself has the “it-hasn’t-been-painted-in-30-years” look.

•CLAPBOARD COTTAGE: Home costs go up because materials go up, labor goes up and the cost of government services such as building inspectors goes up.

The Clapboard Cottage solves that problem by using the flimsiest of building material that anyone can hammer together. And since plans aren’t submitted to the building department, there are no costly government fees for inspectors.

 There’s the added bonus of not needing additional fire protection since a Clapboard Cottage would be toast even before a fire engine could roll out of a station, making the need for additional fire protection superfluous.


Manteca has a severe shortage of affordable apartments.

Understanding this, those of Mr. Potter’s ilk probably would jump at the chance to build a mini storage complex and convert it into the ultimate affordable housing project.

It’s perfect. The very low income and homeless could have all the amenities of an upscale community - gated entrance, 24-four hour security, and secured RV parking.

Only a few modifications would be required such as communal showers and bathrooms as you’d find in some state parks.

Each unit could come equipped with hot plates for both cooking and to provide some warmth although simply having the roll-up door pulled down at night should significantly reduce the wind chill factor.

In the summer, they’d have the advantage of the newest rage in some parts of the country - a sleeping porch where cool evening breezes come into a screened sleeping area. But with a Mini Series apartment, one doesn’t have to fuss with the need for a special room. Instead, the entire home can have natural air conditioning by simply rolling up the door all the way.

There are those who would say this sounds cruel. But in Japan, a mini-storage unit would almost qualify as a McMansion. There are even places in Tokyo were workers rent bunk space with 11 others in quarters tighter than a standard mini-storage unit.

And if tenants can’t pay, the landlord could use mini-storage laws to collect their due. They simply lock the unity door for non-payment when the tenants are out and then post notice for an auction to sell off all of the delinquent tenant’s belongings to cover the rent.

That way the risk of a developer building “below-market” housing would be reduced.

So if you ever hear that there are no solutions to Manteca’s affordable housing problem, don’t believe it.

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