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Are Mantecas housing plans out of synch?
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Single family neighborhoods.

Now there’s an archaic term.

On my block there are no less than six “non-traditional” households meaning there are multiple-families — sometimes not related — as well as housemates (as opposed to roommates). That doesn’t mention multiple generations living under the same roof where the younger generation has moved back in.

I was a bit surprised, though, to find out this is not just a trend in older neighborhoods such as Powers Tract. A friend living near Woodward Park figures one in six households within a half mile of his home do not fall into the traditional definition of single family households.

The ratio is probably higher.

In the middle of the housing boom 10 years ago Lathrop could not figure out why their sewer flows started increasing significantly. They weren’t going up proportional with the number of homes being built. They eventually discovered the reason. Many of the larger homes were being purchased by two, three or even four families.

There were reported incidents in Manteca of the same trend. In one case two young couples bought a McMansion near Cowell School. Not only did they live there but so did two other couples. The amount of cars and people drove several neighbors batty.

They complained to the city noting they were living in a single family neighborhood. They were told that they were out of luck. Federal law bans discrimination on home loans. If three couples wanted to buy a home together and live in it, there was nothing the city could do.

Single family homes — planners, bankers and developers love the term and the concept.

It’s comfortable and safe since the majority of homebuyers still can be characterized as such. But it is clear that our emphasis on single family homes is missing the mark.

Part of the problem is price. Between land, growth and building fees, plus the actual cost of construction free-standing homes designed for one family are expensive. 

Part of the problem is living in the past. Single family home neighborhoods as they are now perceived were born in the aftermath of World War II. 

The world has changed a lot since then in terms of culture, the economy, and society.

And simply building more apartments, duplexes, townhouses, and condos isn’t necessarily the answer.

Some savvy home builders have tapped into the trend by building “generational homes” featuring shared kitchens and separate living quarters separated by a door with private outside entrances. It is essentially one separated master suite with a small living room attached built under the same roof as a traditional home. In many cases the homes are being bought jointly by retired parents and their grown child’s family or by a young adult and their parents. In a few cases un-related families are buying them together. 

The small but growing trend seems to underscore the price argument but it also gives credence to the argument that the traditional design of single family homes is not meeting the need.

Why not venture into non-traditional “single family” home plans? Back in the 1980s, a popular apartment floor plan for younger couples in Orange County involved a set of master bedroom suites centered around a common kitchen and living area. It was a take off on some of the private sector apartment complexes near universities that cluster six to eight bedrooms with their own bathrooms around a kitchen and living area. 

It would seem a similar concept might meet some of the demand if it appeared periodically in traditional neighborhoods or in a neighborhood of their own.

Builders, though, have to play by rules imposed by government and lenders.

Local government planners have a tendency not to like anything that deviates from established rules. Propose a tandem garage where one car is parked behind the other and they go bananas.

Bankers also won’t warm up to the idea. The reason is simple. They are making loans and they’d prefer housing to be easily marketable should homes come back into their possession. The biggest market is for traditional single family homes. 

New homes in subdivisions have two-car garages — you never see carports instead. The reason: Cities are reluctant to allow one-car garages or carports under their zoning ordinances and bankers are leery of them because they believe they limit the pool of potential buyers. Yet if you built single family homes with a carport instead of a two-car garage it would significantly reduce the selling price.

While bankers and builders appear headed to renew their love affair with the McMansion, society is heading in a different direction.

Consider statistics for two-parent households versus one-parent families. In 1960, 87 percent of children lived in two-parent households based on Census data. By 2010 that number had dropped down to 68.1 percent.

Study after study clearly shows two-parent households are in a better position financially. That means single family parents, for the most part, can’t afford as much house nor do they have the same needs as a two-parent family.

There are also other demographics at work including an upswing in one-person households.

But you can’t tell that from what’s on the drawing board for Manteca housing. There are more than 14,000 units proposed with the vast majority being single family homes followed by apartments. For the record there isn’t one project calling for duplexes, townhouses or even mobile homes let alone out-of-the-box housing.

It begs the question: What kind of future is Manteca planning and is it going to end up being seriously out of synch with reality?


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.