Andrew Sephos was the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
Back in 2006 when the rent for a two bedroom, one bathroom unit at Union North Apartments was $850 instead of the $1,990 they are fetching today, Sephos was among those who listened as a workshop was conducted at the Manteca Senior Center looking for answers on how the city could encourage the development of at-market workforce housing.
The council appointed committee was tasked with finding ways to get more housing — rental and otherwise — developed for the those households making 80 to 120 percent of Manteca’s median income. Today that would represent an annual household income range of $55,000 to $81,000.
After attentively listening to what those tasked with finding solutions offered as to the reasons why they felt affordability was an issue, Sephos spoke.
The task force, he noted, was in essence trying to find a solution that ultimately would not address Manteca’s needs.
That’s because, as he said that day, “Manteca is Brentwood’s affordable housing plan.”
Of all the points made that day that Manteca’s leaders have failed to take to heart, his was the most critical. The reason is simple. All of the solutions being discussed were essentially aimed at solving the affordable housing of Bay Area cities and not that of Manteca.
Workforce housing, by the way, is not a code for subsidized housing. And as much as it might surprise you the task force was tasked at finding ways to make sure Manteca could stay affordable for nurses, teachers, and firefighters that toiled on this side of the Altamont Pass. They were not really focused on those holding full-time jobs that pay the equivalent of $15 an hour today.
The usual solutions were advanced and dutifully debated and agreed upon. More than a few people in the room that day agreed those solutions would likely go nowhere. That is exactly what happened to the plan the Workforce Housing Task Force submitted to the City Council in October of 2007.
The council tossed the report onto a stack of other plans and reports conducted over the years that one day will make one hell of a bonfire. The reason they gave was incredibly simple and naive. They declared the housing collapse that started in 2006 solved Manteca’s affordable housing problem.
Good luck convincing those in their 20s and 30s that were born and raised here, graduated from Manteca, East Union, or Sierra high school and then secured a college education and naively are trying to work as well as start and raise a family here that the housing collapse solved Manteca’s affordable housing problem.
There were six people tasked with coming up with a strategy for the council to implement in a bid to make sure the concept of workforce housing in Manteca wouldn’t forever be a myth like Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster. They included LeAnn McNabb, Ron Cotten, Kathy King, Ron Cheek, and Jay Holmes. There was a sixth person as well who was also tasked with preparing the actual report — a senior planned by the name of Ben Cantu.
That is the same Ben Cantu who was elected mayor two years ago. It is the same Ben Cantu who a year ago this month convinced his council colleagues housing — not just attainable dwellings for the workforce but having a strain mixture that would provide the type of housing physicians that the community is struggling to recruit to want to live here — had to be an absolute top priority.
Let’s be clear about a few things. The city over the years has talked the talk but that is about it. Cantu is not to blame for Manteca’s subpar efforts at trying to direct the private sector into addressing the problem. And make no mistake, the city needs to come up with ways to do just that or Manteca will be building new dwellings to solve the Bay Area’s affordable housing problem until cows become scarce around these parts just like they are today in Berkeley.
However, if Cantu cannot use his leadership as mayor to not just get the ball rolling but to actually get things in place that will prevent Manteca becoming two separate communities divided by where a household’s paycheck is earned, history may not judge him kindly.
That’s because he has been the most vocal and consistent person in the past 30 years when it comes to sounding the alarm. And now that he is in a position of influence he can’t seem to light a fire. And that fire needs to be an enteral flame, not one that peters out once strategists are identified.
There were more than a few people back in 2006 that thought Cantu was placed on the task force because the council was eager to shut him up.
And today there are more than a few people who believe that when November 2022 rolls around Cantu will be a one term and done mayor.
Cantu needs to prove his detractors wrong and not just because for the most part he’s right when it comes to housing.
He has to prevail because it is the only way that Manteca won’t price most of the future graduates of the three high schools within Manteca’s city limits out of the local housing market, whether is to rent or buy.
With all due respect, Cantu needs to stop being a history professor and become laser sharp on his focus.
That means the ideas the Cantu and fellow council member Jose Nuno have tossed around — which are essentially what the task force came up with 13 years ago need to be formally implemented. They also need to find solutions that target older, established neighborhoods near the central part of the city to develop more attainable housing solutions whether it is infill, garage conversions that work, or free standing auxiliary dwelling units.
By doing that before going hog wild on downtown it will generate additional population near the central district to build the base for all the trendy things people say they want.
Sephos happens to be the husband of Toni Raymus.
Toni and her brother Bob have done more to make it possible for households with Manteca jobs to buy a new home than any other person whether it is a bureaucrat, politician, or developer.
Over the years they have successfully strived to make sure they consistently offer at least one model that’s the lowest priced new home sold in Manteca without sacrificing quality.
The first phase of the Manteca Trails at the western end of Woodward Avenue will have smaller lots and smaller homes aimed specially at households whose paycheck earners are the ones who work to make Manteca work whether at private or public sector jobs.
Sephos does his part as well. Over the years he has taken older distressed properties and turned them around. It not only helps provide some livable workforce housing but it helps refresh neighborhoods at the same time.
Manteca needs to have two twin “space shot” projects to not just get on the launching pad but to make sure they take flight in 2021 — workforce housing solutions and a solution that gets an endeavor in place to start chipping away at the city’s growing homeless problem.
It’s a tall order.
But then again, if the council wants Manteca to be more than the affordable housing solution for Brentwood, it is imperative that they step up to the challenge.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com