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$2.3 million decision needs careful thought
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Manteca’s elected leaders are about to spend the last $2.3 million they’re  likely to have for a long, long time— if not for ever — to help leverage affordable housing for the very low income and the low income.

The money is unspent redevelopment bond proceeds specifically designated for affordable housing. Since the state pulled the plug on redevelopment agencies that spent 20 percent of all money they raised to on affordable housing, the city no longer has a financial tool to accomplish those goals.

It doesn’t mean, however, that the city can’t develop other tools including revamping the archaic and ineffective 3.9 percent growth cap that’s tied not to homes allowed in a single year but to the number of sewer connections that can be issued with unused allocations rolled over for future years. By making sewer allocations scarce, the city could encourage developers to build a percentage of affordable housing in order to get permits for at-market housing. It’s similar to carrots that cities like Ripon have employed very effectively.

The city has received four requests to utilize the remaining funds. Staff is recommending funding a proposal to build 40 independent living housing units for low and very low income seniors on Cottage Avenue on the southeast corner of where it crosses Highway 99.

Although there is nothing wrong with it per se, it is not a political recommendation. By that it doesn’t weigh specific community objectives against each other.

Two other proposals include providing housing for very low and low income veterans and creating more humane very low income housing options. Each of the two proposals cleans up long-term cancerous blights on downtown Manteca, namely rundown second-floor boarding-style housing.

The fourth proposal would build 90 apartments for income sensors featuring both independent living and assisted living. That proposed project is along Atherton Drive east of South Main Street.

Low-income senior housing, low-income veterans housing, and low-income housing are all pressing needs in Manteca.

In the past RDA funds have leveraged two fairly large low-income apartment complexes for seniors, rehabbed a problematic low-income apartment complex for low-income households at Union Road and Wawona Street and built workforce affordable apartments on Atherton Drive east of Van Ryn Road.

There are federal and private sector funds available to cobble together with money a developer may have to make such units possible. The private sector funds are from regulatory requirements that major banks make low-interest loans available for such purposes. RDA funds basically helped pencil out the projects.

RDA bond proceeds were used heavily in the past for first-time buyer’s assistance with down payments. It also funded a massive rehabilitation program for low-income seniors to upgrade their homes via health and safety repairs.

It is imperative that the City Council think long and hard about what to do with the remaining $2.3 million to make sure it leverages the most good for Manteca.

The two downtown projects address an issue that has long-been ignored in terms of effective long-term solutions to clean up downtown boarding housing. Such housing in many cases has served as a cancerous blight on downtown by attracting substance abusers and other criminal elements as well as the law-abiding working poor. The problems the former create are an albatross around the neck of efforts to transform downtown into a vibrant city center.

It is one reason why the two proposals should be given serious thought. They do not just meet affordable housing needs. They serve a segment of the housing market that has long been ignored plus either project could help jump start the transformation of second-floor housing that is currently dragging down the rest of downtown.

The 90-units of low-income senior apartments along the 120 Bypass provides 125 percent more affordable housing units that the project on Cottage Avenue.

The Cottage Avenue project is classified as an in-fill project with utilities readily available making it essentially shovel ready. It also consists of one-story duplexes and four-plexes and not an apartment complex per se.

The Atherton Drive location, however, addresses a serious concern involving excessive commercial zoning along the 120 Bypass/Atherton Drive corridors.

Over the years the only projects proposed for this area along the north side of Atherton Drive east of South Main Street has been a mini-storage complex and a hotel of which neither materialized.

Since there are two apartment complexes along Atherton Drive east of Main Street, serious thought might want to be given in the next general plan update to zoning between South Main Street and the Paseo Villas apartments for additional high density housing. Since the zoning was put in place the city approved plans for the nearby Austin Road Business Park that includes extensive commercial zoning.

The area in question also is near where a high speed rail station could go in the next 20 to 40 years if tracks are built by the Altamont Corridor Service down the 120 Bypass to connect with the California High Speed Rail’s proposed future extension into Sacramento. Such a scenario would dovetail well into either high density housing or a transit village concept. In reality, the land would work well for either purpose without high speed rail due to its location as well as the glut of commercial zoning exacerbated by retail’s changing face due to the Internet.

Again, there is nothing wrong per se with the staff’s recommendation. It’s just that there are other considerations beyond the parameters that staff used to make the Cottage Avenue plan the recommended project.