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Ben Cantus lonely crusade to encourage workforce housing
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Ben Cantu was a champion of workforce housing in 2008 in his strong second place finish for the Manteca City Council.

This time as a mayoral candidate you haven’t heard a peep from him on the subject, publicly that is.

And it isn’t because he believes the foreclosure crisis has taken care of the need for workforce housing.

Cantu simply notes people aren’t interested now that the bottom has fallen out of the housing bubble. They believe the affordable housing is no longer a pressing concern because of the precipitous drop in housing prices. It’s hard to get people to listen - let alone convince them of the need for workforce housing - when McMansions are selling for $280,000 and decent tract homes are available for $150,000.

Cantu correctly points out workforce housing is still a big issue. It’s just no longer the political issue du jour and as such it’s a non-starter with voters.

In a larger sense, how elected leaders have treated the need for workforce housing reflects the recurring theme of his campaign that the city never sticks to a game plan and instead goes from one crisis to another.

While that may be a little simplistic and a tad unfair in some cases, he has a point.

It wasn’t until Manteca median housing prices were closing in on $450,000 that the council decided something had to be done to assure workers in Manteca could afford to live here. And by that they weren’t talking store clerks and burger flippers who worked full-time.  It was about school teachers, distribution center workers within union pay scale and firefighters.

They formed a citizens committee that included Cantu among the council appointees to explore various affordable housing strategies and make recommendations to city leaders as to innovative ways Manteca could address the need.

By the time the council received their report, the housing market was in meltdown. The council proclaimed workforce housing was now being addressed thanks to the mortgage crisis so therefore was no longer a pressing need. They then filed the housing committee’s report in some forsaken drawer in the bowels of the Civic Center.

Workforce housing - whether it is owner-occupied or rental - will again be a major concern. The time to address it isn’t when the market is hot and developers are churning out five single family homes per acre. You can’t get policies adopted, in place and implemented on a dime. It can take years. So down the road there will be another squeeze on rank-and-file Manteca workers when it comes to housing. City leaders will wait to see what happens and then when things become intolerable will appoint a committee to come up with innovative ideas.

The committee will come up with recommendations but then the housing market drops, prices fall, and yet another report fades into obscurity.

It sounds a lot like Cantu’s campaign mantra about what’s wrong with government.

Cantu also thinks serious thought should be given to how we convert farmland into housing. The more it is spread out, the more costly infrastructure it demands and the more expensive services are to deliver.

If you think about it, housing and how it unfolds should be one of the key issues with the council as it impacts everything the city does.

Given a town like Manteca that is even in growth mode during one of the worst economic downturns of the past 100 years housing and related development-related issues should be at forefront of campaign discussions.

After all it is how housing is developed in terms of density and other factors that ultimately determine how much it costs to run and maintain municipal services as well as the quality of life.

It is unfortunate that part of his election year’s dialogue doesn’t encompass workforce housing and development patterns.

But when it comes to housing even Cantu knows no one is going to listen or really care until such time it is again a crisis.

And while he’s kept mum on workforce housing this time around he is still hammering away at the culture of disposable studies at City Hall that are commissioned, accepted and then tossed aside.

 Cantu, from his perspective is simply telling people what he believes they need to hear and not necessarily what they want to hear.