Is there an affordable housing problem in Manteca?
The answer, if you ask anyone, is yes.
But is the problem worse than it was 25 years ago?
Back in 1991 minimum wage was $4.25 an hour. That’s when I rented a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment consisting of 785 square feet for $495 a month at Park Place Apartments. I obviously was making more than minimum wage. And someone making closer to minimum wage obviously wouldn’t have rented from the Crom Street complex unless they had one or more roommates.
That said, Park Place provides a solid barometer to gauge affordable housing trends in Manteca. It is part of the middle tier of apartment complexes the Bulletin started tracking rents on in 1997. Plus I also happen to know what the rent was in 1991 since I was a tenant.
Using 1991 as a snapshot with someone on a 40-hour a week minimum wage job grossing $8,440 a year shows that it would have taken 67 percent of their pre-tax income to rent the one bedroom unit for $5,940 over the course of a year.
Fast forward to 2016. Minimum wage is $10 an hour. That apartment is now renting for $1,075 a month.
A full-time minimum wage job translates into an annual gross of $20,800. Meanwhile that apartment now costs $12,900 a year to rent. That means 62 percent of the pre-tax income would be needed to rent the apartment or 5 percent less than in 1991.
It should be noted when I moved out three years later in 1994, the rent had been bumped up to $585 a month or $7,020 annually. Minimum wage didn’t increase to $4.75 until 1996. So a fulltime minimum wage job versus renting that Park Place apartment in 1994 would have required 79.4 percent of the gross income.
As far as those who think raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 is going to ease housing costs, consider this: If rents don’t go up over the next six years — about as unlikely as it snowing at high noon on July 4 in Death Valley — a gross income of $31,200 would still require 41.3 percent of a fulltime worker’s minimum wage gross to rent for a year.
That number is significant because many households in the shadow of the Bay Area housing market where home prices and rents are in the stratosphere push the envelope by spending 40 percent of income toward housing costs. Ideally, economists argue it should by 30 percent or less.
For years Manteca’s elected leaders have erroneously talked about affordable housing in terms of what people can afford to buy. Affordable housing solutions need to be framed in terms of basic needs – a roof over your head with a structure that meets codes. As such, we are talking about rentals. There is nothing basic about homes being built today compared to 1991 in Manteca. They are bigger, are on bigger lots, have more bells and whistles such as granite counter tops and high tech wiring, three or more bathrooms and garages with room for multiple vehicles. That is in stark contrast to 25 years ago in Manteca where there was even one builder — KB Homes – that sold central air as an option in their California Classics neighborhood off of Louise Avenue.
Meanwhile apartments — save for Paseo Villas where upgrades will set you back $515 more a month for a one bedroom apartment when compared to Park Place — have remained fairly basic.
Manteca needs to find ways to clear the path for more apartments as well as duplexes and triplexes. Except for subsidized units, it’s been 15 years since a duplex project was built in Manteca and 14 years since at at-market apartment complex which happens to be the most expensive to rent in town — Paseo Villas. Meanwhile Manteca added roughly 5,000 single family homes. It is clear why rents are going through the roof. The supply of traditional affordable housing — apartments and other multi-family dwellings such as duplexes — hasn’t changed.
The reality is most lower paid workers will have to have roommates or live with relatives. But changing economic dynamics that are making full-time lower paid jobs shrink in numbers plus other living costs aside from housing including taxes are now making it precarious for even roommates to find a place they can afford by splitting the rent.
During the past 25 years there have been 12 Manteca City Council elections. In each campaign cycle virtually every candidate has made affordable housing an issue.
Yet after the ballots have been counted nothing has changed. There have been times when staff has been asked at public meetings as they were earlier this year if Manteca was meeting affordable housing mandates. Staff answered each time that Manteca is meeting mandates. They are telling the truth as the state mandates simply require cities to have a certain percentage of land zoned for apartments and other affordable housing as well as policies that encourage affordable housing to be built.
But here’s the rub: One can’t live in a mandate or under a bunch of words on paper and colored zones on a map. What is needed is implementing all of those wonderful solutions.
The Nov. 8 council election so far offers five people who should have some know-how and the desire to find a way to get Manteca off the dime when it comes to affordable housing. Gary Singh has real estate expertise. Jeff Zellner was homeless as a youth. David Cushman as a young 20-something has struggled to find affordable housing in Manteca. And Debbie Moorhead for the past eight years has seen how leaving it up to chance hasn’t worked.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.