If Don Quixote were alive today he would be roaming the Altamont Hills tilting at windmills instead of the Spanish countryside.
His impossible dream would be even more unattainable — affordable housing in Manteca.
The time is long overdue that civic leaders in Manteca — or almost anywhere in California for that matter — to stop speaking in platitudes and snap out of the completely crazed idea the solution lies with further tweaking of what we’ve been doing for the past 65 years of tacking affordable housing fees on new homes.
All the tools designed to encourage affordable housing that Manteca might finally roll out that have been used elsewhere will barely make a scratch let alone a dent into the need. That is non-debatable given what success stories they have led to in other California cities are extremely limited.
Slapping affordable housing fees on new home buyers is akin to saving someone from drowning by pushing someone else out of a lifeboat so that person instead can drown.
The more fees you pile on a house you reduce the pool of buyers that can afford to buy a home. Making new home buyers pay an affordable housing fee essentially reduces the affordability of housing for dozens if not hundreds of people just to raise enough money so one person can buy a home.
There are those who defend such fees by saying the developer is paying them and not the homebuyer. It’s a perverse statement bordering on reckless regard for reality. Just like the cost of lumber, labor, and land the fees cities slap on housing is collapsed into the price a buyer pays for a home.
The most effective answer for affordable housing outside of an economy with upward mobility and solid paying jobs can be found in the garage and even backyards of elected leaders and those at many other people’s homes in Manteca.
They’re called garage conversions and free-standing “granny flats” that the state has made legal for years but cities have done little to push and nothing to incentivize.
Done right they effectively blend into existing neighborhoods such as the popular casita option — a separate residential unit encompassed under the same roof line of a new home. It has its own kitchenette, bathroom, and separate entrance.
New home buyers often go for the option to move parents in or grown children in. But that has been a steady trend over the last few years of buyers including them to rent it to help with mortgage payments. It’s the same as some buyers of new three and four bedroom homes that immediately start looking to rent out rooms once the escrow closes to ease the pain of mortgage payments.
If you don’t think there is a demand guess again.
Studio apartments in Manteca — on the rare times they become available at places such as Westwood Village and Stonegate Apartments — rent for $1,125 a month for 460 square feet.
The typical two car garage built in the mid-1960s to late 1980s is 480 square feet.
A $70,000 loan — one that’s large enough to do all interior work, replace the garage doors with an entrance and face that blends into the rest of the home, add car ports, and do other front yard landscaping improvements — carries a $676 a month payment including taxes and insurance. That’s with a 30-year fixed rate loan at 5 percent. At today’s rates of just above 3 percent it’s actually a $598 payment.
If rented competitively with a studio that is $527 into the pocket of a homeowner in an older neighborhood who may have equity in their home but has a fixed income. In one fell swoop you have created a new affordable housing unit and kept another one affordable.
The city wouldn’t need to charge fees as the infrastructure and roads are already in place to serve the neighborhood. The school growth fee is not triggered because the new dwelling created is below 500 square feet.
Before the city finally starts doing something about affordable housing they need to take a close look at what is happening in older and newer neighborhoods.
There is a fallacy that only immigrants — or those here illegally — have multiple generations, multiple families, or numerous unrelated individuals living under one roof. It literally involves people across the spectrum from blue collar to white collar workers, young adults to the elderly and everyone in between, and even various social economic backgrounds.
So-called “single family homes” is a concept anchored in the 1950s when the post-World War II generation was riding an economic expansion wave powered by unbridled optimism.
It is clear we have been slipping back into the norm for civilized man where domiciles more often than not housed multiple generations and it was routine for families to have boarders.
Granny flats and garage conversions are just two viable options for the council to start pursuing in earnest with incentives and educational campaigns.
They could also create a Manteca-based housing app or website where people with rooms to rent can try to match with people looking for rooms to rent just like a ride share app. Such a website would also entail information on building granny flats and doing garage conversions, estimated costs based on a square footage model, and contain links to lenders and contractors the city has vetted to make sure they are on board do such work and can tackle the nuances.
The city working with banks and contractors could also create a calculator on the website that comes up with an average square footage cost while calculating loan expenses and such to come up with a monthly payment.
There are other affordable housing strategies including ones that would preserve the existing inventory of which many can be found in mobile home parks.
Imagine the loss of affordable housing that would happen if a mobile home park was bought at today’s market prices. Being proactive and working with a non-profit housing to secure complexes and then work on a plan that would allow people to buy small modular homes to replace mobile homes over the years with land rent kept as low as possible would assure that a large swath of affordable housing won’t be lost.
Manteca’s affordable housing answer will never be found on land that once grew corn for silage or was studded with almond trees.
Even though the aforementioned can result in much more affordable housing, show results much sooner, and can be done essentially 100 percent on the private sector’s dime without burdening the buyer of a new home with more costs that makes housing them less affordable, it is highly unlikely anyone on the council will go outside their comfort zone.
Instead they will be content to mount a steed, grab a lance, and set out to slay the monster of unaffordable housing by charging the windmills in the Altamont Pass.