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No one has forced real action on affordable housing but that was before ‘BC’ (Ben Cantu)

Manteca’s affordable housing policy is all show and no go.

Rarely have homes been built in Manteca in the last 25 years and longer that those households not blessed with Bay Area-like paychecks can barely afford to rent let alone buy.

Blame it on the market, if you will, but if you do blame it on the “right market.”

It is clear that Manteca isn’t growing the demand for housing from a native birthrate. Manteca has been a city of steady growth since the mid-1970s that has almost consistently put it among the 100 fastest growing cities in California even through the depth of the recession that started in 2006 and lingered for six years. Once you understand that then you will realize the affordable housing policy of most Bay Area jurisdictions is simply relying on the eastward ho movement across the Altamont Pass.

And the homes that banks are willing the most to underwrite developers to build are the ones that sell the easiest that in turn have a somewhat higher margin that means they have less risk attached to them. Essentially it’s everything now being built south of the 120 Bypass except for the first phase of the 428-unit Valencia Apartments now under construction east of Bass Pro Shops.

Because the market acts the way it does is why the state mandates affordable housing strategies for local cities.

Manteca has done what the state has mandated. They’ve adopted lofty goals that are nice sounding cookie cutter bureaucratic gobbledygook. And, as required every 10 years, they’re about to reaffirm those goals by adopting an updated general plan that every city is legally required to have to serve as a blueprint to guide growth.

The problem without policies that implement those housing goals that are then actively pursued you have nothing but the print equivalent of hot air.

This is where Mayor Ben Cantu comes in.

Cantu has been the lone voice in the Manteca wilderness for decades continually sounding the alarm that the city’s housing goals are akin to being the emperor with no goals. And because the city says it is working toward affordable housing everyone that can see farmland being converted into subdivisions plays along with the delusion.

The problem is not the market per se. It’s the fact Manteca leaders over the years have never used put in place requirements to direct — or incentives to entice — market builders to chip away at the affordable housing need.

“It’s a lack of political will,” Cantu said Thursday.

The political will that is lacking that he refers to is not in Sacramento but those that collect stipends that are now at $600 a month for conducting the city’s business when they gather for council meetings at 1001 West Center Street.

It is why Cantu is throwing the gauntlet down Tuesday when the council is asked to extend a development agreement for the 1,266 home Trails of Manteca project on the western end of Woodward Avenue and extend the Diamond Villas subdivision map for 43 townhouses on North Lincoln Avenue.

The mayor doesn’t want to see either extended unless they agree to participate in an affordable housing program that could be in the form of a fee leveled on each home or options involving kicking in the density in their projects and a repertoire of other tools including building some units that are priced and sold to those whose incomes fall into the targeted households for affordable housing endeavors as outlined in the general plan.

Cantu expects push back including from colleagues that have been telling everyone they are all for affordable housing. They will likely say that you can’t condition a project that has been through the planning gauntlet and approved even though under California law there is no requirement that cities extend subdivision map approvals when they lapse as Manteca has routinely done for years.

How does Cantu plan to change nearly three decades or so of the city being asleep at the wheel when it comes to affordable housing?

His only clue before he lays out his case Tuesday are two words — “just watch.”

Cantu won’t have a hard time making a case. Housing, new and old, prices continue to climb. Existing home sales have accelerated with many selling within days of being listed and often at prices above what was being asked. Given where Manteca is located in proximity to tech firms that are allowing workers — that are paying through the nose to rent in the Bay Area — to switch to telecommuting for all or most of the work week, it will only get worse.

Cantu was part of the city’s last serious attempt to put an affordable housing program in place. When the blue ribbon committee appointed by the council at the time turned in the finished project in 2008, elected leaders took it and filed it away contending the mortgage crisis solved the affordable housing program.

It did — at least for home sales — for about six years. But it never eased the rental market as monthly rents kept climbing.

Of course, you mention the term “affordable housing” and some people react as if you just poured water on one of their fingers and jammed it into a light socket.

That’s because they believe the words “affordable housing” and “low-income housing” are interchangeable. They’re not.

Cantu notes the pursuit of low-income housing in Manteca is now essentially dead given the state took away the only effective way cities could make such endeavors work by teaming up with non-profits and the private sector when the state pulled the plug on redevelopment agencies.

Giving Cantu a sense of urgency is that projects that have been approved and yet to be built  or are in various approval stages with the city represent at least nine years of home building.

Among those 5,000 plus housing units that excludes apartment that been approved, or only 41 homes that aren’t traditional single family homes and they happen to be the Diamond Villas.

Cantu believes Manteca can ill afford to wait another 10 years before more “attainable” housing is built in Manteca.

“Attainable housing” is Cantu’s replacement for the toxic term “affordable housing.”

You will hear “attainable housing in connection with the proposed Richland Communities’ Hat Mansion Project Version 3.0 making its way through the approval process.

That’s because Richland, besides planning smaller homes on smaller lots is including 126 half-plexes for the proposed southeast Manteca neighborhood.

Cantu said Richland is working on half-plex designs that will blend seamlessly into a neighborhood that will feature varying sizes of traditional single family housing.

How successful Cantu is at finally getting the City of Manteca to get its act together when it comes to affordable housing will determine if Manteca will be home to a broad based array of families across the income of whether the city motto will need to be modified to read “The Selective Family City.”