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The emerging reality: Manteca & tiny houses
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My 21-year-old granddaughter is a realist.

It is why she talks about her dream house being a “tiny house.”

We’re not talking 1,200 square feet. Try 391 square feet. And even that in some quarters would be considered a McMansion.

Such an outlook is light years away from housing today in Manteca and elsewhere in this country. The average size of homes during the Great Recession retreated to an average of 1,450 square feet at one point in Manteca. New homes are again expanding eclipsing 3,000 square feet on average.

It is, of course, what the market demands — for now anyway. The majority of home buyers currently are positioned to buy large homes. And because they are, bankers will underwrite construction loans to developers for the super-sized American Dream. Their logic is simple. Four or three bedroom homes with 2.5 bathrooms and an expansive double car garage with 2,500 square feet of living space has a lot larger potential market than a two bedroom home with one bathroom a one-car garage or a carport and 900 square feet of living space.

The market, however, can’t be sustained.

If you doubt that ask Ashley or a growing army of 20-somethings and even older who can’t secure full-time employment at a livable wage. Instead they get by with one part-time job or — if they are lucky — two part-time jobs that pay barely above minimum wage.

It is the emerging reality. It can be attributed on a lot of things: The continued shift to a service economy as opposed to one with a strong manufacturing base, global competition, the crush of pension plans on firms, and small businesses as well as a few larger ones dealing with the harsh financial reality of the Affordable Care Act.

There is also the reality that many 20-somethings see — parents struggling to pay the mortgage and maintain larger homes after they have had their better paying jobs eliminated or hours reduced.

The majority of homeowners are not on the brink. There is, however, a growing number of people in younger generations where not only buying a home is out of the question but so is either renting one or renting an apartment for that matter.

An average one bedroom, one bathroom apartment in Manteca now rents for $925 a month.

If an individual was fortunate enough to have a 40-hour a week job that paid $12.50 an hour they would gross $500 a week or $26,000 a year they’d be dancing in the streets. There are hundreds of young people if not more in the Manteca area who would be thrilled to earn such an income. And it isn’t a matter of moving up from a first job. Many have been stuck in part-time employment for years and are constantly on the hunt for better work.

That $500 a week once taxes, Social Security and health care premiums are taken out is slashed to roughly $400.

So with $1,600 a month from their $12.50 an hour how tough do you think it would be to rent a one-bedroom apartment for $925 a month? Assuming they could get into an apartment that leaves $675 a month for food, transportation, clothing, toiletries, phone service, utilities, and incidentals.

In case you are wondering, $12.50 an hour is a decent wage in Manteca once you subtract government jobs, teaching jobs, as well as some warehousing and manufacturing jobs.

Which bring us to the city’s goal of securing workforce housing for people who work in Manteca and want to live here.

Even if all that means is a place they can afford to rent, Manteca is clearly not providing workforce housing unless they are renting a room, double or tripling up on roommates in an apartment or living at home with their parents as the big 3-0 nears.

Some large cities such as Seattle and San Francisco either already have — or have developers building — apartments that are 375 square feet that come complete with kitchen, bedroom, living area, and bathroom. Some are even smaller — as little as 200 square feet — that are self-contained save for communal kitchens.

A 375-square-foot apartment may seem foreign in the Land of McMansions but walk into an Ikea store and you can see how it effectively it can work. Ikea stores have fully furnished apartment space on display that start at 391 square feet.

It would be great if Manteca could encourage developers to build such apartments but it would be problematic without a restructuring of fee schedules and even how hook-ups are figured.

What could be done much easier is to find ways to build more standard apartments and multi dwelling such as duplexes or creative zero-lot line configuration. Allowing carports instead of garages would reduce costs as would smaller lots.

Manteca should use a sewer allocation system that rewards developers with valued hook-ups for larger lots and larger homes in exchange for also building either smaller homes or some type of affordable rentals.

That way tax dollars wouldn’t have to subside affordable housing nor would Manteca 20 years down the road get stuck with a housing mix that does little if anything to make it possible for people to both live and work in Manteca unless they land higher paying job that are becoming fewer and farther between in the emerging reality of the new economy.