Housing in Manteca, despite having an affordable housing expert as well as an affordable housing zealot on the City Council, is becoming less affordable with each passing day.
Studio apartments in The Atherton are now renting for $1,875 a month. Some call that “Bay Area” rents but that is not completely true.
In the heart of the Bay Area a studio apartment in a new complex will put you back right around $3,000 a month. That said with each passing day Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy, and Mountain House are becoming more and more Bay Area and less and less Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Manteca’s affordable housing strategy hasn’t advanced one iota since five years ago when then Councilman Richard Silverman quizzed then Community Development Director Frederic Clark at a council meeting asking if the city was addressing affordable housing.
The reply, in a nutshell, was Manteca had colored enough areas on a city map and adopted the politically correct wording in their general plan to satisfy the State of California that the city was meeting affordable housing expectations.
It wasn’t meant to be a flippant answer but unless people can shelter themselves with a house made from pages of the general plan and “correctly” colored maps, it came across that way.
All joking aside, solving the affordable housing puzzle is about as easy as solving a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded.
Thanks to a lot of factors affordable housing isn’t going to happen any time soon, at least not how everyone seems to think it should happen which is through new construction.
The housing shortage in California has developed over the years as zoning, environmental laws, and NIMBYism (not in my backyard) has either prevented or slowed down the ability to build homes whether they are standalone houses or multiple family complexes.
Blame the developers all you want. It is incorrect to assume they are price gouging. Beyond charging what the market will pay, there are a lot of costs that they can’t trim.
It costs a minimum of $50,000 upfront between fees and such to build any home in Manteca that is part of a new subdivision.
That reflects costs for municipal and school infrastructure that years ago was reflected in property taxes being much higher proportionately than they are today in California.
Building materials are at an all-time high. Construction trades aren’t minimum pay jobs.
Then there is the issue of the long gestation period to get a project from conception to ground breaking that requires environmental studies, land prices, and bank carrying costs.
By the time you add things up, the fees paid for a 575-square-foot apartment aren’t much different than for a 1,600-square-foot house.
There are only two ways the City of Manteca can “solve” the affordable housing quagmire through new development.
First they could do everything within their power to accelerate growth. Once the supply of apartments and houses become even with demand or exceeds it, housing costs will stop climbing.
Such a strategy besides being suicidal politically and next to impossible to pull off with the exhaustive and time-consuming environmental review process, won’t work unless every other city in a 100-mile radius does the same thing.
The other way is to severely lower expectations. That means less parks, double sessions or year round school, less interchanges, increasing traffic congestion by reducing major streets, and severely scaling back community recreation facilities.
Just like increasing growth, such a move toward Third World infrastructure and amenity expectations would have the populace marching on city hall with pitchforks and torches.
Councilman José Nuño and Mayor Ben Cantu as the council’s subcommittee on affordable housing are in what might be called a no-win situation.
The only real options they have for recommendations involving developing new housing that is affordable fall in two general categories: Adopt an affordable housing fee on new development and offer developers incentives focused primarily on increased density.
The affordable housing fee should be a non-starter. The reason is simple. Even if it was an average of $1,000 per new home built and Manteca continued to build 600 homes a year, the $600,000 they’d generate a year wouldn’t go that far.
If it were used for down payment assistance for low-income home buyers its impact would dissipate after a number of years.
And if it went to trying to put together another workforce housing project such as the 152-unit Juniper Apartments in Atherton Drive, it would take 14 years at $600,000 a year to raise the money that Manteca did through the now defunct redevelopment agency to provide the city’s share of financing to make those 152 units possible.
That isn’t even the proverbial drop in the bucket.
Density bonuses might encourage developers to pursue smaller lots with smaller homes. But when you pencil it out, the housing won’t be that less expensive as development fees still must be paid. The housing it creates would indeed be more attainable but the odds are the people snapping them up will be those heading eastward over the Altamont Pass in search of affordable housing.
It is why any serious effort at increasing the availability of more affordable housing needs to be directed toward existing neighborhoods.
That would include garage conversions where they blend in seamlessly with the existing house, auxiliary dwelling units or granny flats, and replacing or converting homes in older neighborhoods into multiple family residences.
The city would need to make some judgment calls in whether “fees” charged for new housing can be reduced or dropped in such cases. The justification is parks already exist as do major roads serving older neighborhoods. The impacts on other municipal infrastructure and services may be less due to the increased density.
It is clear the nice sounding gobbledygook in the existing general plan and the one the city is about to adopt is nothing but empty words.
At the same time the cost of building either affordable or attainable housing from scratch has the same impact on the problem as using an ice pick to break apart the Arctic ice sheet.
With a little luck when Cantu and Nuño roll out their proposal to address affordable housing needs in Manteca is will be based in reality and not Textbook Planning 101 that has helped Manteca secure the $1,875 studio apartment.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com