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Affordable for Bay Area not Manteca
Bay Area flight throws affordable housing out of whack for local workers
Rik Keller is project manager of the Sacramento-based consulting firm putting together Manteca’s housing element. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Providing affordable housing in Manteca is trickier than in many other parts of California thanks to the long shadow cast by the Bay Area economy.

“That’s because we are the fair housing element for Solano, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties,” noted Manteca-based mortgage broker Andrew Sephos during Thursday’s initial workshop as part of Manteca cobbling together a state-mandated housing plan.

That is reference to the fact that the majority of homes bought in Manteca with low introductory rate loans were made to people who headed east over the Altamont Pass in the earlier part of this decade. They may have pulled in $80,000 salaries in Bay Area jobs but prices of homes near their employment priced them out of the Bay Area market and into the Central Valley.

As a result, Manteca and much of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties helped address the Bay Area’s affordable housing needs while exacerbating the situation for low to moderate income people who live and work in the valley when it comes to securing housing to own or rent.

The foreclosure fallout, according to a University of Pacific economist, has taken median housing prices from roughly seven times the median income in Manteca three years ago to around 2.5 times today making homes much more affordable. That is why a record 1,165 resale homes last year were bought in Manteca with the vast majority being bought by local people. It is the reverse of three years ago when Bay Area buyers dominated the market.

The plan, which calls for 4,000 more housing units in Manteca based on two-year-old data gleaned by the San Joaquin Council of Governments prior to the foreclosure mess, must include strategies on how the city will encourage the development of affordable housing through 2014.

However, the state housing plan mandate could end up being an exercise in futility until the foreclosure mess is cleaned up.

“We’re in a declining market and we have to stabilize it,” said Carol Ornellis of Visionary Home Builders.

She noted that the 10-year stretch of time where people viewed houses as a way to make quick money and turned everything upside down “was a big mistake.”

Ornellis said the families she works with – many who secure down payment assistance from various agencies such as the Manteca Redevelopment Agency - are not among the ones in default. She noted that less than half a percent of her clients – compared to the 1 in 12 homes that were in duress as a foreclosure or defaulting on payments last year in Manteca – were facing foreclosure.

“We have to do a Wal-Mart and roll back prices,” Ornellis said.

And that is where an effective housing plan would come in handy.

Fay Blackman of Eden Housing pointed out lower fees and available land that is zoned properly for higher density housing would be a start. Eden Housing developed the twin Almond Court and Almond Terrace low-income senior housing complexes on Union Road in conjunction with the Manteca RDA and helped rehab the Union Court complex for low-income renters.

Community Development Director Mark Nelson said some strategies being mulled include increasing density in and around central Manteca where there are existing services. Possibilities include pursuing plans that allow residential units above new retail and higher density housing near downtown.

Nelson noted that any affordable housing project has to be built to the highest grade, has to look like market place housing, and had to be maintained in order to be successful.

Since 2004 Manteca, primarily through the RDA, has spent $1.2 million to help 38 low-income households buy their own home, spent $500,000 helping rehab 88 homes owned by low-income residents and invest another $750,000 to upgrade 82 homes owned by low income seniors. They also have helped Eden Housing add 40 more subsidized low income senior apartment units. There are another 50 seniors on a waiting list.

The city currently has almost 100 families on a waiting list for assistance to buy a home.

The housing plan is expected to address the need for more rental units, smaller units for single person households, and affordable housing for seniors as well as families.

Nelson, in response to a question, pointed out the state gives cities no choice but to put a housing element in place complete with strategies.

“I don’t need to do a housing element to know we need more affordable housing in Manteca,” Nelson said.