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The myth: Manteca affordable housing committee will make a big difference

Manteca now has a Perpetual Motion Machine Committee better known as the Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee.

Of course we all know there is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, a hypothetical device that can work indefinitely without an energy source. It’s just like there is no such thing as affordable housing, at least how most of us define it.

You see affordable housing is kind of like a mirage. You think you know what it is when you see it but it’s an illusion.

It is true that the homes being sold — and rented — today in Manteca and elsewhere in California are affordable to someone. And in all honesty the Northern San Joaquin Valley is the best — but not the complete — affordable housing solution to the Bay Area.

There are tons of things the council can explore in a bid to jump start so-called “true” affordable housing that those households with incomes between 80 and 120 percent of the median income in Manteca can swing without having to eat gruel for three meals a day for half of any given month. They run the gamut from inclusionary housing to fee buy downs. But at the end of the day such efforts are a mere sprinkle compared to the torrential downpour needed to wash away the backlog of affordable housing demand and their effectiveness that is dissipated quicker than an ice cube placed on the ground of Death Valley at high noon on the Fourth of July.

Given our myopic view of housing — affordable and otherwise — it’s a slam dunk the Manteca committee won’t come up with different answers than all the widely unsuccessful affordable housing efforts in California in recent years unless your idea of success is for a mere handful of people being helped after spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

The biggest obstacle to overcome is mindset wedded with the two real killers of affordable housing better known as NIMBYism, or not in my backyard, and most Californians’ tendency to view ideal housing as a freestanding home plopped on at least 6,000 square feet. Yes more than a third or the state’s urban areas consist of multiple family homes but you will notice what is going up in the greater numbers and fastest are single family homes ringing urban areas.

Manteca, just like every other California, has a checkered past when it comes to inclusionary housing which is another fancy name for housing that the majority of the middle class apparently don’t see as normal in much of the state. Everyone says they support it as it is the “right thing to do.” In reality all they pay is lip service as they go about placing every conceivable roadblock to make sure it doesn’t happen.

It is also an easy out to say developers won’t build housing other than traditional single family homes on a large lot because that is where the money is based on market dynamics.

Yet even the slightest variation from the cookie cutter template triggers throes of anguish.

In the run up to the housing collapse as new prices were leaving the upper stratosphere Florsheim Homes decided to offer a more affordable neighborhood in southwest Manteca.

It involved smaller homes on smaller lots with tandem two-car garages. The biggest concerns voiced by the Manteca City Council at the time — where would the residents park their RVs and there was only space for two cars to park on the street in front of homes on corner lots due to California Vehicle Code regulations about how close you can park to intersections. Thinking of RV ownership in connection with affordable housing is bizarre as is being worried you can’t park three cars in front of a home.

The developer said the behind the scenes resistance was even more intense. The end result: They learned their lesson not to try and pursue an affordable neighborhood project unless they wanted their heads bashed in and a big dent in their pocketbooks due to delay after delay in the approval process because they weren’t proposing a cookie cutter project.

A few years later when the last affordable housing committee — of which our current mayor Ben Cantu was part of — delivered its eight key recommendations to the City Council it was dead on arrival despite being non-revolutionary and not overtly offensive to the NIMBY crowd. The council accepted the report and then declared it wasn’t needed as the foreclosure crisis that was unfolding at the time solved the affordable housing problem. Twelve years later the affordable housing problem is worse than ever.

Any bets that the current committee will replicate the previous affordable housing report and it too will be tossed aside?

Three years ago Richland Communities proposed an affordable housing project that was big on small homes and small lots much like the sensibilities of the Golf Villas along Union Road just south of Crom Street but with narrower standard streets instead of the super alley design that part of Golf Villas includes. It was proposed for land where the 28,000-square-foot ultimate McMansion — better known as the Hat Mansion — stands in southeast Manteca. The backlash was intense. Not only did nearby homeowners armed with the proverbial pitchforks roll out the “there goes the neighborhood routine” alluding to increased crime, plunging property values, and a proliferation of child molesters they attributed to simply homes that were smaller and on smaller lots but they did so with such intensity that the city council trashed the project on the spot.

It was such a showing of lack of backbone and lack of political courage that at least two other developers dropped plans they had for subdivisions in the planning stages that entailed several neighborhoods that simply had a modest shrinking of home and lot size.

One can only imagine the current council’s reaction to concepts such as duet condos with common living areas such as was tried in Orange County in the 1980s, 100 percent studio unit apartment complexes with stepped up common areas that was part of a green energy complex built in downtown Sacramento in the 1990s or any other true lower cost at-market housing option that are not single family homes.

The bias to equate affordable housing to single family tract homes that you rent as opposed to non-subdivision style housing that you might rent is there even if the current council doesn’t openly admit it or realize it. That’s because each and every council member is a home owner and not a renter. They also live in versions of the traditional single family home.

The real question is can a committee that surely will be comprised of homeowners who believe the only real housing is a single family home make much headway with recommendations that will make much of a difference except to say Manteca tried?

At the same time what do we expect as Manteca residents when we say we want housing to be more affordable but then box in city leaders with our personal biases?

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.