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Manteca needs affordable housing for local people & not for Bay Area folks

Manteca has a problem that is arguably more pressing than the 200 or so homeless people on its streets.

And just like the homeless problem it is not simply a Manteca issue, it’s equally vexing, and it may be impossible to solve to any large degree.

The worst part is that if the city fails to find a way to ease the problem it has the capability of making the city’s homeless problem mushroom.

The problem is the growing inability of people to afford to shelter themselves with paychecks earned at typical Manteca jobs and those in nearby communities. Many call it an “affordable housing crisis” but that belies what is really happening because the targeted task is not narrow enough.

Manteca, like much of the Northern San Joaquin Valley, has become the de facto affordable housing solution for many Bay Area cities. If it wasn’t for the growth of housing in Tracy, Lathrop, Manteca, Mountain House, Patterson, Stockton, and Modesto there would be a lot of households making well over $80,000 that would be living on the streets of San Jose, bouncing around from couch to couch, sleeping in garages, or sharing homes.

The average two bedroom apartment is now renting for $3,301 a month in San Jose. That’s $40,000. If that household is making $80,000 a year — an amount $12,000 above the median household income for all of Manteca whether they have Bay Area paychecks or reflect Northern San Joaquin Valley wages — that leaves $40,000 for everything else. If we’re talking about a family of four, when you start counting essentials, the money` goes real fast. PG&E alone would take $3,000.

The active buyers seeking homes in Manteca today fall into the income range of $60,000 to $90,000. Even with today’s historically low interests rates, there are extremely few new home options on Manteca given they are in the hunt for homes between $250,000 and $400,000 where the pickings aren’t exactly robust or reasonable for their needs.

Renting a home increases their options a bit but not much. There is also the added caveat that rising rents will make it unaffordable for them eventually to rent in Manteca. More than a few families with both parents working decent jobs that have migrated from the Bay Area to Manteca and nearby have found that out the hard way. Just ask the staff at the HOPE Family Shelters.

It is why if the Manteca City Council’s “affordable housing” committee concentrates on finding ways to reduce the cost of at-market new housing will be answering the affordable housing needs of places like San Jose, Oakland, Fremont, Pleasanton, Livermore, and even Tracy in terms of a large segment of their workforce and not a majority of those that rely on a paycheck for jobs based in Manteca.

With all due respect to Mayor Ben Cantu and Councilman Jose Nuno that have a fairly firm grasp of affordable housing measures that have worked elsewhere to ease the cost of housing those solutions will almost have no impact for most people who live and work here.

It is why two very key concepts need to be explored and working solutions adopted.

The first centers around the reality that new housing development — short of the extremely few units the city could build via subsidy programs — will not address the growing shelter needs that are rooted in the local economy with people who are already living here whether they are freshly minted school graduates entering the workforce or those who are much older and are being squeezed by rising rents.

It is why solutions involving existing neighborhoods need to be pursued.

The Oregon state legislature earlier this year passed a zoning law requiring cities of more than 25,000 residents or more to allow two-, three-, and four-unit residential building in neighborhood of single family home.

Allowing the replacement a 50-year-old home of 1,600 square feet on a 6,000-square-lot with a two-story building with four units of 960 square feet each as either apartments or owner occupied condos while ditching the traditional garage quadruples the housing supported by one parcel. New home builders would also have the same option

Yes, the plan is fraught with potential backlash. In Oregon there have been complaints it would increase congestion and alter the character of neighborhoods.

That may be true but it also allows for the more efficient delivery of municipal services and helps make bus service more plausible.

There is a myth that building more large apartment complexes will address the demand for more affordable housing.

Such an assumption ignores the fact the cost to build an apartment in a 100 to 150 unit complex that enjoys economies of scale is also as much as building a 1,800-square-foot house. That is due to land costs, city fees collected to handle growth and service connections, more expensive construction costs for apartment complexes, as well as the various support facilities.

The long gestation period for apartment complex approvals and construction time makes building them a challenge to secure construction loans.

And new apartments aren’t inexpensive to rent. The 154-unit Tesoro complex completed earlier this year at Atherton Drive and Van Ryn Avenue rents for $1,715 for a one bedroom to $2,625 for a three bedroom. Forty year-old complexes such as Laurel Glenn on Button Avenue aren’t much more affordable as one bedrooms rent for $1,500.

In reality, many of the two bedroom units are rented by two different parties not in a relationship either as individuals or couples. Splitting the cost of a two bedroom apartment at Tesoro brings the per bedroom rent when it is split down to $1,023. Someone making $17 an hour — the average pay of most distribution center jobs — working 40 hours a week will gross $35,360 a year before taxes. A third of their gross pay would be going to pay for their share of a rent.

Along the same lines as allowing up to four units per parcel in areas now zoned as single family homes is establishing an incentive to build granny flats or high quality conversions of garages into a self contained housing unit.

The second concept is to impose affordable housing fees on new housing that is not in a multiple unit complex or is part of a project where more than 12 homes are being built.

The fees collected would be used to pay down growth fees that the city may not be able to otherwise justify suspending on projects that would replace an older existing home with a structure with four housing units.

The biggest challenge for the city is to change the mindset of the tract home development pattern of the last 60 years that eschewed smaller lots and smaller homes as well as a number of small-scale multi-unit complexes.

Regardless, everyone needs to be honest. The affordable housing strategies elected officials are talking about exploring will only assure housing will be somewhat more affordable for those being forced out of the hyper high cost Bay Area housing market.

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.