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Affordable housing & Manteca
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The phrase “affordable housing” is rapidly become a paradox in Manteca.

If you doubt that try renting a one bedroom apartment for under $1,000 a month assuming, of course, you can find one.

It doesn’t help that elected leaders over the years have equated complying with the state’s demand to kill a bunch of trees to create a fairly thick mumble jumble of bureaucratic phrases as heavy lifting for meeting affordable housing goals.

The odds are Tuesday when the Manteca Planning Commission reviews the Housing Element for the state mandated general plan that serves as a city’s blueprint for growth they will state Manteca is meeting affordable housing requirements as dictated by the state. They will be correct as the state — just like the Manteca City Council — believes words speak louder than actions.

In defense of staff, they are not the ones that establish affordable housing policies or give them teeth. That’s what elected leaders are supposed to do.

Of course, when pressed council members tend to hide behind property rights.

It’s a concept that anyone who owns a home, farm, land, and such tend to get defensive about and can sympathize with the council for not wanting to impose their will on “landowners” and “developers.”

But they conveniently forget a significant detail. The real value of a “raw” parcel of land isn’t created by the marketplace or a developer’s financing. It is created by the community in which it is located. And because of that “community rights” are just as important as property rights.

Developers could propose all of the residential projects they wanted to meet the demand of those holding Bay Area jobs that are forced to look for housing on this side of the Altamont and tend to want McMansions. But it won’t do them much good if the land isn’t “developable.”

If Manteca didn’t have a wastewater treatment plant and domestic water system the land developers own would be worth a fraction of what it is today.

It is the community that also banded together for a solid waste collection system, major roads, schools, parks, library, and other amenities. Yes, developers — or more precisely the people, who ultimately buy the homes they build — also pay toward such things. But if the community of Manteca never stepped up to the plate over the years, trying to build 500 single family homes here would be as impossible as trying to build 500 dingle family homes in San Joaquin City 10 miles south of Manteca near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers.

San Joaquin City, if you’ve never heard of it, was once a bustling small community back in the latter part of the 19th century. Part of the demise was due to the fact river shipping gave way to rail as the favored way to move farm goods. But other towns that railroads bypass did manage to survive and thrive. But to do so they required community water, sewer, schools, and such.

It was the people living in Manteca a century ago that made this town valuable for developers just as it is the people who buy the homes developers build today.

If it wasn’t for Manteca’s core infrastructure and zoning, the folks behind the approved 1,178 single homes in the Trails at Manteca want to build on west Woodward Avenue to grow their financial worth, the only way the developer could make money off the land today would be by leasing it to farmers.

Requiring affordable housing as part of any residential development of perhaps more than 40 homes doesn’t require the city to bleed developers. It does, however, require innovation from the city and developer as well as a slight reduction in profit a builder can make off of perhaps a tenth of the lots they build homes on.

The city could do what Ripon did and require “lower than market” homes — read that smaller houses — on a set percentage of lots within a development. That may mean if the smaller home a developer plans to build is 1,750 square feet, perhaps 10 percent of his overall project has to have dingle family homes less than 1,200 square feet in size.

Yes, you can’t get around the fact it costs as much money to extend infrastructure in the form of city fees to a housing unit regardless of its size. A smaller footprint including a smaller lot does have a cost savings. The slightly higher density reduces the city’s long-term per home costs to serve a subdivision.

And as Ripon demonstrated, you can build the smaller affordable homes to blend in seamlessly with the at-market neighboring homes.

Of course, Manteca needs big infusion high density housing such as apartments and condos. But that is something that will come in time and shouldn’t be a burden on a developer building 40 or so homes.

But if they have a project over 100 homes they need to either build or set aside land for high density housing whether its duplexes, apartments, or something else.  

It is clear Manteca’s adorable housing efforts are less than stellar.

At the same time there isn’t a lot of money out there to build subsidized apartments as they city has partnered with non-profits to do in the past.

What the council can do is find ways to at least address part of the affordable housing needs when it comes to single family homes.