The young mom was elated.
She had been ushered into a small room of perhaps 15- by 12-feet with a window, a Spartan heavy duty wood bed frame supporting a mattress without box springs, a small chest of drawers, and mini-refrigerator. There was even a communal computer down the hall that tenants could use to email.
This was going to be her new home along with her 8-year-old daughter. The bed was too small to share so the plan was for one of them to sleep on the floor.
They had been living down the block in a drug-infested hotel that at the time was dubbed “Heroin Heights.” She did not feel safe there with her daughter and son.
Her son wouldn’t be moving with them as he had just turned 13 years old. He was now a teen. The mom’s new home – Sycamore Arms – had two communal bathrooms. The new owner who had renovated the second floor boarding house on the northeast corner of Yosemite and Sycamore avenues had a strict policy – no teen boys were allowed to live in any of the rooms.
It was a policy rooted deep in concerns about raging hormones and impulsive behavior. Perhaps a broad generalization, but it isn’t unlike policies of other boarding houses.
She was able to find a friend who would allow her son to sleep on their couch for awhile. Exactly how long that would be she did not know. All she knew was it was a far better living arrangement than what they had before.
This was back in 2008. She was going to be paying $600 a month – $50 less than she was paying for the hell-hole she had been living in.
She also liked the fact the new owner promised everyone would be screened that wanted to apply to rent at the Sycamore Arms. Also an onsite manager would keep unwanted guests from the building.
It was a heavenly place for the young mom who was working 30 hours a week at the time as a Wal-Mart cashier. She received assistance that allowed her to barely keep her head above water while raising two kids.
If she had the last month’s rent and security deposit, $600 would have gotten her a decent one-bedroom apartment at the time in Manteca. But she didn’t have the financial resources to do that. So she – along with her daughter – became one of the invisible downtown Manteca residents.
Fast-forward seven years to this past week. What was once a young mom’s sanctuary for herself and her daughter has been boarded up and an armed security guard posted outside. Squatters who had broken in were evicted.
The Sycamore Arms had slipped back into its former status as a flophouse, Tweeker Towers. The building was in receivership. Word on the street was that drug abusers gained the upper-hand once again causing the demise of what was lauded by city officials as a shining example of how a second-floor boarding house should be run. The city lost 16 low-income housing units.
Also this past week, the Inn by the Station was given until March 30 to correct a laundry list of health and safety concerns or the Moffat Boulevard motel’s 21 units will have to be vacated.
There are also young mothers with children and even couples with children living in the former Rose Motel. And while drugs are likely used by some who live or hang out there, it is very clear that with some tenants paying $300 a week, the landlord isn’t being responsible. It was the same last year for the Sleepy Hollow trailer park that was finally shut down for many of the same health and safety violations.
Investors milking property are often worse than drug abusers. They prey on people caught in between who have a fair amount of income but not enough to qualify for places where they will ask for a security deposit and last month rent as well as background checks.
The bottom line is by the end of this month, Manteca could very well end up 58 less “units” for the very low income than they had at the start of 2014 if the Inn by the Station goes the way of the Sycamore Arms and Sleepy Hollow.
Given Manteca’s perennial shortage of apartments, the outlook for young moms and families that are holding low paying jobs and trying to keep things together is looking bleak, very bleak.
Manteca’s leaders still have some remnants of the redevelopment agency bond proceeds dedicated to affordable housing to work with.
Here’s a suggestion: Instead of assigning that money to down payment assistance programs for low-income people to buy a home, why not brainstorm with church groups and non-profits to see if the remaining money could be leveraged to provide decent housing for the very low income?
Manteca can think out-of-the-box to devise private-public partnerships to lure Bass Pro Shops and Great Wolf Resort. They should be able to do the same for very low-income housing needs.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.