We’ve been told for six campaign cycles — and rightfully so — that affordable housing is a major issue in Manteca.
The 2018 election, we were told, was about change.
So here we are a 12th of the way into a four-year term and the city’s movement toward developing and implementing an affordable housing strategy is zilch.
Instead key elected leaders are still in campaign mode speaking in platitudes and promising a better future. So where is the progressive solution that the voters were promised?
Rehashing city policies encased in general plans since the beginning of time is all sound and fury signifying nothing. Appointing yet another affordable housing task force would be morally bankrupt as they will dutifully examine everything previous affordable housing task forces have done and come to the same conclusion which is to emphasize policies already in place that aren’t effectively being implemented. Market-based solutions tried by developers have run into roadblocks set up by city policies and then — if they see the light — they get stoned to death by NIMBYs such as the Richland Communities proposal for the Hat Mansion property with elected official serving as the pall bearers.
It’s time to pull back the curtain and see what great solutions the folks we elected have in mind.
But before they roll out the usual dog and pony show, let’s be clear on a couple of key points.
Slapping more fees on new housing doesn’t help with affordability. And adding a fee for affordable housing as a few have suggested is downright bizarre. Fees are a necessary evil as growth needs to pay for its fair proportional share of impacts it creates. A case can be made the city needs to institute more fees or increase them to come up with part of the funds needed for a wide variety of wants and needs such as an aquatics center and a police station that’s bigger than a bread box and more secure than a 7-Eleven.
Arbitrarily reducing new home fees to create affordable housing is a non-starter as it shifts the identified share of a wide variety of impacts of a house being added to the community onto the back of existing residents. There is something inherently obscene about a politician who will find a way to build a $390,000 home so it can be sold to someone that can afford to buy a $350,000 home by spreading the cost to those that are struggling to retain $200,000 homes.
Then there is the dynamics of a high growth market Manteca will be in for years to come unless the Bay Area returns to its agrarian roots.
The values of existing homes are lifted up when the value of new homes increases. The higher the new home prices go the narrower the price gap becomes between existing and new homes. It’s basic economics.
So instead of going back to the planning policy well and pulling out a few tricks that Manteca has never tried to implement such as requiring developers to have inclusionary neighborhoods with a set percentage of homes designed as significantly smaller or as corners lot duplexes that seamlessly fits in with at-market housing architecture that has relatively little impact, what should the city do?
It needs to become an active player in affordable housing by making it easy to happen by marrying policies essentially forced on cities such as Manteca to accept by the state in the form of mandatory rules that allow secondary housing units or a repertoire of regulations they could adopt for Class “A” garage conversions by identifying financing options and conducting outreach.
This should be driven by a sobering fact. Once fees, land, and construction are factored it costs anyone a minimum of $185,000 to construct a modest house in Manteca or a simple apartment unit.
It’s obvious building traditional new homes and apartments will only make a dent in affordability if you build enough of them to over saturate the market. The odds of that happening are next to none.
But if you actively encourage the building of secondary units or granny flats you can expand the inventory of lower priced housing whether it is to rent or to own.
On housing units 499 square feet or less state law exempts them from the collection of school impact fees reducing the cost $1,740 out of the gate. The land doesn’t have to be purchased.
The city could probably find a way to legally pare down sewer and water connection fees. They could bypass them entirely if the new housing unit is retained by the owner as part of the same parcel as it could be connected to the existing service. You could also shave off storm system related costs since converting 500 square feet of a yard into a house has about the same impact of the city allowing homeowners to add additional concrete driveways in front of their homes to park vehicles without charging them a fee. Between the school as well as water, sewer, and storm system fees you could easily half the $44,000 plus tab in fees collected on a new housing unit.
The city could easily put in place a program connecting lenders with those wishing to build secondary housing units on their property.
If it cost $100,000 to build and pay fees for a new secondary home assuming 20 percent down with three quarters of that being the land and $5,000 being in cash, the monthly payment would be $510 — including property tax and insurance — on a 30-year loan at 4.5 percent. If that secondary home was rented for $810 it would provide the owner of the property an additional $3,600 a year of income. That could help people stay in their homes and even have money to upkeep them. The city might be able to justify putting a 15-year cap of $300 on what the owner can charge in rent beyond property taxes, insurance, and mortgage payment in exchange for allowing the second unit to be built without additional sewer and water connection fees.
The same approach could be used for complete garage conversions that would require kitchen area, bathroom, separate entrance, new front facade and possible landscape/yard alterations to make them fit in as seamlessly as possible in neighborhoods.
IKEA showrooms offer two floor plans — one at 240 square feet and another at 380 square feet — that show you how doable that living space can be. There is one at 590 square feet that accommodates 1.5 bedrooms — the smaller bedroom being a kid’s bedroom.
Larger footprints — such as 700 square feet that would easily accommodate two bedrooms — would be subject to school mitigation fees would be do-able and still quite affordable with a $300 month “cap” beyond basic costs.
Making 499-square-foot homes available for $810 when one bedroom apartments just 200 square feet bigger are fetching $1,450 is an affordable housing solution with teeth.
The ball is in the Manteca City Council’s court. Are they serious about real affordable housing solutions that will work or was it all a game to get elected?