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January: Big month for housing?
Manteca tops SJ County for 2009 housing starts
Crews work on new houses at Florsheim Homes’ Valley Park neighborhood in southwest Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca could end up with its best January since 2000 for new housing starts.

There are 54 single family homes plus two duplexes in the review process for a total of 58 housing units.

Normally January is the softest month for housing starts. Manteca may be benefitting from the fact that The Great Recession has silenced the sound of hammers and saws in most other San Joaquin County communities.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, Manteca had almost 60 percent of all new housing starts throughout San Joaquin County with 237 of the 414 new homes that started construction. The next closest was Stockton with 120 followed by San Joaquin County with 30, Lathrop with 25, and Lodi as well as Escalon with one apiece. Tracy and Ripon did not issue a single family home building permit during the 2008-09 fiscal years.

Manteca ended the calendar year on Dec. 31 with 304 housing starts including 27 in December. It is a number that also allowed it to top San Joaquin County for housing starts as well for the 2009 calendar year.

It was up from 223 housing starts in 2008 but down from 553 in 2007. It was also the 13th highest year since 1987 when the municipal growth cap of 3.9 percent based on residential sewer allocation went into effect.

No one is expecting any major work to take place in the new future to start the development of new phases of existing subdivisions or new neighborhoods that have completed the planning process and have full entitlements. They just need to seek permits to start grading and site work and then build. There are 3,775 entitled residential lots in Manteca including 3,312 single family homes and 463 apartments.

Manteca has 879 finished lots with everything in place from utilities to streets, and sound walls, to sidewalks. That represents three years worth of building based on the housing activity in Manteca during 2009.

Those finished lots include:
•149 in Dutra Estates that has separate sections being developed independently by Florsheim Homes and Morrison Homes north of Woodward Avenue and west of Airport Way.
•12 in Ken Hill Estates that is a project of Raymus Homes on Woodward Avenue west of Main Street and is designed for custom homes.
•64 in Paseo West east of Main Street and north of Woodward Avenue being developed by Anderson Homes.
•123 in Terra Bella midway between Union Road and Main Street and north of Woodward Avenue that is being developed by Bright Homes.
•254 in Tesoro north of Woodward Avenue and east of Van Ryn Avenue that is being developed independently by Woodside Homes and another builder.
•71 in Union Ranch being developed by Pulte Homes as Del Webb at Woodbridge north of Lathrop Road and west of Union Road.
•224 in Union Ranch East being developed independently by Atherton Homes and Woodside Homes north of Lathrop Road and east of Union Road.

A survey of builders show most are writing off the cost of the land to make projects pencil. While the accompanying tax deductions plus all important cash flow may allow them to keep building, it doesn’t mean they are making a profit and it definitely isn’t a strong enough market to risk investing millions in site work to create more lots.

The only builder that may be in a position to do so is Pulte Homes since they accounted for close to a third of all housing starts in Manteca last year. Such a sales pace may still be strong enough to make development of part of the 838 entitled lots that are basically just barren ground now at the age-restricted Del Webb at Woodbridge community pencil out.

There are another 11 projects that could add 5,429 housing units and 2,450 apartments that are making their way through the city’s entitlement process.

It brings the total of all lots – finished, entitled and pending – to 12,551 including 8,741 single family homes and 2,913 apartments.

Even though there is some grumbling among developers about development agreements that have features such as bonus bucks to assure sewer allocation certainty, the number of projects in the works right now poses a long-range problem after the current housing slump ends. The developers were the ones who proposed bonus bucks a decade ago to assure sewer allocation certainty in exchange for paying a fee that can run more than $13,000 a home.

The Manteca wastewater project expansion when completed in the coming months will have a dedicated capacity that can handle about 12,000 more homes than the number now in the process.

It means when housing picks up, some developers could be squeezed out of the sewer allocation process unless they enter development agreements.

Public Works Director Mark Houghton noted the expansion coupled with the historic growth rate in Manteca means there is adequate sewer capacity for housing expansion for the next 20 years. The plant has been designed to allow for relatively “inexpensive” increases in the treatment capacity in 2 million gallon increments after the current capacity is maxed. The increments would handle city needs for the next 50 years.