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Getting Manteca’s affordable housing strategy in order

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POSTED April 12, 2009 4:40 a.m.
Is the city not making an effort to procure affordable housing in Manteca? Not exactly.

Is Manteca doing all it can to promote affordable housing: No.

Manteca leaders in a way have paid lip service to affordable housing over the past decade or so. The latest example was when they proclaimed the workforce housing crisis solved when prices started plunging so therefore they shelved recommendations by a committee they appointed to come up with strategies to secure more affordable housing.

The message was two-fold and clear: The city responds only to emergencies such as skyrocketing housing prices – for ownership and rent – squeezing out the little guys. They don’t look for long-range solutions to provide shelter when the weather is fair.

Having said that, if the housing element had not been in place as required by state law the city would have jeopardized state housing funding essential to make three projects work that provide subsidized affordable housing for the low-income – the combined 90 plus units of the Almond Terrace and Almond Court apartments for seniors on North Union Road and the refurbished 60-unit complex for low-income households on South Union at Wawona.

In the early 1990s, Manteca partnered with the private sector to build 66 affordable homes in the Cedar Glenn neighborhood in East Manteca that had silent down payment loans.

Another 220 low-income units are in the works including a low-income senior complex on North Main Street behind Dribble’s Car Wash, a low-income family complex on the northeast corner of Woodward Avenue and Airport Way, and an affordable complex for mentally handicapped adults who can live independently on Airport Way north of Yosemite Avenue.

That is on top of more than three dozen families who have gotten into homes thanks to RDA down payment help plus hundreds of senior-owned housing that has been upgraded.

It is misleading to say the city hasn’t done anything or that a housing element is a waste of money.

The real problem is the city’s overall approach to development.

It is true that the folks at 1001 W. Center Street along with elected leaders have fallen flat in the past when it came to working with the private sector to create affordable housing. But then again, there used to be a lot of people clutching rules and regulations so tightly that their hands got rigor mortis working overtime to kill any creative proposal from developers to cut the cost of housing.

The council – and staff – in years past dragged their feet on residential design standards and would never work outside the bureaucratic box. These are the same people who delayed 24 Hour Fitness for six months because they argued there was inadequate parking even though the previous use was a Safeway store.

Even if the city were to make concessions for narrower streets and such in new development on the growing edges of Manteca it will have minimal impact on affordability.

The reason is simple – amenities and services cost big money.

We can wail all we want about new development not having necessary amenities but we’re forgetting amenities that have already been built or are being put in place in central Manteca.

It is a place where sewer and water lines are in place as well as streets, storm drains and lighting. There are parks as well as a library, shopping, restaurants, churches and even schools you can walk to and from.

The city needs to make it easy to build secondary living units, to replace older homes with multi-family housing, to encourage apartments or condos above retail, and allow apartments with either a lower parking ratio or make it easy to use alleys to access diagonal parking at the rear of apartment complexes put on multiple older lots.

But most important of all, the city needs to create a zone in the central Manteca area where it can “suspend” or greatly reduce fees that drive up the cost of housing. Credits obviously should be given for existing sewer and water connections.

The fees the city needs to consider dropping or reducing in such zones include those for parks, public facilities infrastructure fee for major sewer-water trunk lines and streets, and bonus bucks to secure sewer certainty. In fact, the city should use sewer allocations as a carrot. If a developer can come up with an effective plan that quadruples the density on existing older residential lots, they should be granted a 50 percent sewer allocation bonus that they can use elsewhere in the city or “sell” to another developer for $10,000 per allocation.

By encouraging affordable housing and smaller at-market single household dwellings the city also can reduce pressure on services that are caused by extending sewer, water and streets farther and farther out that require you to send garbage trucks police cars and fire engines farther distances as well.

As an added bonus, such an affordable housing strategy strengthens the economic, social, and cultural heart of Manteca.
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