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Manteca affordable housing with Cantu as mayor as elusive as when he chaired task force 14 years ago
Manteca affordable housing with Cantu as mayor as elusive as when he chaired task force 14 years ago

Back in 2006 rents were soaring.

Average home prices were heading toward $450,000.

The run up in prices was driven by job rich Bay Area’s dearth of housing for the well-paying jobs they kept generating as has been the case since the 1970s in Manteca.

The City Council under pressure from the community — with one Ben Cantu applying the most — formed a workforce housing task force.

The name the ad hoc committee was given was selected carefully. The growing concern wasn’t specifically about low income individuals with government assistance struggling to secure affordable housing which was an issue. It was about more and more people working full-time jobs in Manteca and in nearby valley cities not being able to afford housing.

The local workforce for jobs Manteca generates was struggling to secure shelter.

At the time the appointment of Cantu to that task force was viewed by more than a few people as being an attempt to “shut him up”. Cantu was by far the harshest and persistent critic of Manteca’s anemic efforts to encourage more affordable housing.

The task force used economic data to make its case for the adoption of several strategies aimed at encouraging developers to build housing that was more affordable as part of the new at-market neighborhoods they built. The strategies weren’t earthshaking as other communities employed them although with limited success.

The task force report was given to the council months in 2007, months after it was clear the bottom was falling out of the housing market with the mortgage crisis fueled by liar loans triggering foreclosures that eventually would cause most existing homes in Manteca to shed 40 percent of their value.

The housing bubble burst made housing affordable once again for the local workforce providing they were buying. Rent increases stalled momentarily before continuing their upward climb.

The council in place in 2007 accepted the report, thanked the task force, and then tossed it aside. One council member flippantly said the recommendations were no longer needed as the housing collapse created housing affordability. Cantu at the time countered the timing was right as the policies needed to be in place when the recovery started.

Cantu subsequently ran five times for the council or mayor’s post making affordable housing one of his top priorities.

Cantu’s election as mayor in 2018 seemed to be a sign that people were running out of patience when it came to various issues such as affordable housing.

Eighteen months ago in early January 2020 Cantu shared with the council the proposed solution he was working on with Councilman Jose Nuño to hammer out in an effort to put city rules and regulations in place designed to address at-market housing for those earning the median paycheck on this side of the Altamont Pass.

The Manteca housing market, as Cantu noted 18 months ago, is market driven but not by the Northern San Joaquin Valley economy. Instead developers are effectively meeting the Bay Area market needs where median household incomes are significantly higher. The Manteca median household income in 2020, as an example, is $68,019 compared to $99,683 for Livermore, and $138,269 for Pleasanton.

The major points Cantu said he planned to explore with Nuño to bring a proposal back to the council for possible implementation included putting rules and regulations in place that could possibly:

*increase the average housing density from 8 homes to 10 homes per acre.

*require a set percentage of homes built to have smaller footprints of around 1,100 to 1,200 square feet as opposed to the 1,600 to 3,600 square foot tract homes that are now being built.

*provide incentives for builders willing to develop entire neighborhoods aimed at the Northern San Joaquin Valley market as opposed to the Bay Area market.

*devising requirements that at-market apartment complexes that are being built have a higher percentage of smaller units.

*encourage new tract homes to be built with smaller secondary units often called granny flats that could be rented.

*require or incentivize the building of some homes with master-suites with small kitchenettes that would have separate exterior entrances.

The term “market” housing is a misnomer of sorts especially when applied to cities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. That’s because there are two markets — those earning higher Bay Area paychecks that are being pushed out of the Bay Area to buy or rent and those who earn valley paychecks.

If the influence of the Bay Area economy was significantly smaller or non-existent, a different type of at-market home would be built in Manteca.

Cantu in January 2020 said he believed it would be closer to what he grew up in — a 1,100-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms — and not a home pushing 4,000 square feet with five to six bedrooms and three to four bathrooms.

The mayor emphasized he wouldn’t be pushing for subsidized housing but rather city regulations that require developers to build to the local market at the same time they build to the Bay Area market.

Cantu said that Nuño and he would be revisiting the 2007 Workforce Housing Committee report that the City Council requested, accepted, and then opted not to do anything with given the housing crisis had hit while the committee was doing its work sending housing prices plummeting.  

The goal of the council subcommittee as stated in early 2020 was  not to rehash the report but instead look at ways the city can implement the recommendations made 14 years ago that would make sense today. At the same time Cantu wanted to add regulations that will direct builders to essentially build a portion of their homes to cater to local buyers without the effort being subsidized.

Cantu chaired the 2007 committee.  

Today he “chairs” the City Council as mayor.

Yet, Manteca is no closer to have rules, regulations or incentives in place aimed at either forcing or coaxing developers to include in their at-market projects that Cantu has taken in recent years to calling “attainable housing.”

There has been lots of talk, but that’s about it.

And on the list of “get things done” it apparently has taken a backseat to whether the city should allow storefront marijuana sales or cut a check in the seven figures for the seventh downtown masterplan in 50 years.

Whether the fact Manteca adopts even what would be considered the most rudimentary policies in place to encourage developers to include more “attainable housing” in their new neighborhoods instead of catering exclusively to big Bay Area paychecks might not be an indictment per se of Cantu’s inability to move the needle one iota further as mayor than he did as a task force chair 14 years ago.

The blame may fall on the shoulders of the entire council — past and present — and a succession of community development department leaders.

Or except for efforts of local builders such as Raymus Homes that consistently offer a smaller footprint model that is more affordable for the local market and not as appealing for Bay Area buyers as they intend to do with the first phase of Manteca Trails, perhaps the idea of building new housing that is attainable to the local workforce In Manteca is about as elusive as capturing Big Foot.  

At any rate, Cantu as part of the figure head of the city’s political power structure after 29 months hasn’t been able to make any more inroads on Manteca’s growing attainable housing crisis than he did as the proverbial political outsider.

Talk, by the way, is not the same as action.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email