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RDA: A community development tool thats here to stay
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I was out for a walk about 15 years ago with my first Dalmatian named Zebra when an elderly neighbor – she actually lived two blocks away – beckoned me from her porch.

The Bulletin had run a story on the Manteca Redevelopment Agency’s senior housing rehabilitation grant for health and safety improvements. She read a comment from someone who addressed the council in opposition to it calling it no more than a “welfare program.”

She said that she understood the need for the program. She was in her 80s. I thought she was going to tell me about how she used the RDA program but I was wrong. She told of a long-time friend that lived in a small house near Yosemite School that she bought 40 years prior with her late husband.

The roof had been leaking and her water heater had gone out. She was getting by on Social Security and a small pension. She had $1,000 in savings and nothing else. She was able to secure a $2,500 grant to reroof part of the house and then followed up with another $2,500 grant a year later to complete the roof work as well as install a new water heater.

Without the RDA help she would not have had hot water. As for the roof work, it kept the structure from deteriorating. Neighbors had pitched in to help her paint the exterior of the house.

The RDA program did exactly what it was supposed to do – address health and safety issues. At the same time neighbors stepped up with fresh paint that when combined with the roof work basically stopped deterioration of the house that would have led to blight conditions.

The Manteca City Council this past week increased the amount to $15,000 for housing rehab assistance grants that a low income senior homeowner can secure in a lifetime.

The senior housing rehab program is the most prevalent of all RDA programs but also the most invisible.

Over $2 million have been distributed in outright grants during the past 25 years. It has made it possible for scores upon scores of Manteca senior homeowners to remain in their homes. At the same time, it has extended the life of the affordable housing inventory.

When the homes do eventually change hands, typically they are buyers who can’t afford new homes or even the median priced Manteca resale home. The health and safety repairs help keep the homes in good shape and avoid blight that can drive down the value of nearby homes.

It is an effective way of meeting the state mandate that 20 percent of all RDA funds go toward affordable housing.

There are those who philosophically oppose redevelopment agencies on any level. That’s fine as everyone sees things differently.

However, the RDA is in place and isn’t obviously going to go away anytime soon due to how the state required them to be established which is borrowing money to create debt so RDA property taxes can then pay back the money.

The state’s rationale in forming RDAs was to do so in a manner to stimulate investment as quickly as possible to fight blight and encourage economic development. Borrowing – once an adequate base is established – obviously accomplishes that goal which is why the state made it a stipulation of any RDA that is formed.

The bottom line is the RDA isn’t going anywhere for at least 20 years or so no matter how you might wish it does.

That means making it work in the most effective way to reach its goals and to generate economic prosperity and additional tax base should be the top priority of those who embrace the concept of an RDA as well as those who dislike it.

There is no law restricting affordable housing to just 20 percent of the RDA budget. It could be higher.

This is why people critical of the RDA should work to try and redirect its resources instead of playing a futile game of simply slamming the status quo – which is having an RDA – that they can’t change it.

Imagine if clusters of affordable housing – at-market and not subsidized - was built along the Moffat Boulevard corridor or in the central district. It wouldn’t extend or overtax infrastructure such as sewer and water lines and streets. It would bring people with a decent income that they can live on but when the economy is going strong may not be able to afford to buy a house into the central district. That in turn would increase the demand for various retailers and services.

While such a strategy wouldn’t get rid of the “evil” that some contend the RDA represents, it certainly would direct it in ways they may find more palatable.

It is important to remember the RDA is a community development tool that isn’t going away but at the same time its focus can also be altered.

It makes more sense to work for change within perimeters that you can’t change than to simply sit back and cry foul non-stop.