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More Single-Family Homes in Elk Grove?

Just because sub-prime mortgages are no longer available, does that mean developers should get a pass on building low- and medium-income housing?

I am—by nature, upbringing and education—always suspicious that gross corporate greed is lurking behind the decisions of Big Business.   So when I read in the Elk Grove Citizen that the Planning Commission might amend Elk Grove’s General Plan in a way that would eliminate some multiple-family dwellings in favor of more single-family homes, my nose started twitching and my antennae went up.  

The properties concerned are four adjoining plots in the southwestern part of the stalled Madeira development: Arbor Ranch, McGeary Ranch, Tuscan Ridge, and Zgraggen Ranch. All were in one way or another impacted by the bursting of the housing bubble.  Several of them, it seems, were part of the fire sale that was a consequence of developer Reynen & Bardis going belly up.  

The new owners are operating in an entirely different housing market. New home building figures are down, due in part to the glut of single family homes that are on the market--and more still coming--from foreclosures and short sales.  Elk Grove’s jobs-to-housing imbalance is greater than any city in the Sacramento region, which translates to an overabundance of single-family residences.   At the same time, we as a city are not, as I reported , anywhere near fulfilling our mandate to provide affordable housing for all Elk Grove citizens, especially the most vulnerable and poor.  

When I first read that the developers of Arbor Ranch and Zgraggen Ranch were applying for a change in zoning so that lot sizes would conform to “the current housing market demands,” I thought ‘Hooray!’  At last a developer was going to pay attention to Elk Grove’s need for affordable housing.

Then I read the Planning Commission’s report further and saw how wrong I was.  Instead the builders were asking that the General Plan to be amended so they would not have to build the originally-agreed to 226 “cluster home” lots and 190 “town home” lots, which are low and moderate income housing. 

Why? The current housing market demands don’t include that pool of low-income and moderate-income borrowers who, thanks to the sub-prime mortgage business, were once able to qualify to buy cluster homes or townhomes.  Those potential purchasers have gone back into the rental market.   Since I doubt that what the developers of Arden and Zgraggen Ranches have in mind is creating an enclave of income properties for investors, I think they’re probably looking ahead a couple of years to that magical time when the housing market will be restored at least to “normal” and they can sell their single-family homes for a more-than-decent profit.

I would expect nothing less of developers.  They are, after all, in the business of looking after the bottom line, profit margins and the like.  But I would hope that the Elk Grove Planning Commission would evince a little more responsibility to the citizens—rich and poor—of Elk Grove, rather than to developers who will for the most part take their profits outside Elk Grove. 

The result of eliminating the Medium and High Density Residential from these developments is, in just the Zgraggen Ranch development alone, an addition of over 25 acres of Low Density Residential.  Oh, and another one acre of public park.  The City of Elk Grove gets whatever monies it collects from permits and the like; the developers get more housing stock that they can sell at a profit eventually; the needy of Elk Grove get—nothing.  But hey, as Chief Building Official Rick Renfro reminded us several weeks ago, we’re talking about a free market in which the worth of property is based on whether it is “fully buildable,” i.e., zoned for single family residences.  And the discretion to determine that lies totally with the Elk Grove Planning Commission, which will consider this proposal at its Thursday night meeting.

This is the stuff that is fomenting what is being called the American Autumn.  Following on from the Arab Spring, thousands of citizens of all ages and political persuasions are taking to the streets in cities large and small all over America to protest the inequity of a entrenched mindset that favors the fortunes of 1 percent of our population at the expense of the other 99 percent.  Certainly the proposed General Plan Amendment that would eliminate the Medium and High Density Residential land use designations for these Madeira sites would ultimately be good for the principals and stockholders of the developers involved.  But for the rest of us?  For the welfare of all Elk Grove? Of that I’m not so sure.

Elk Grove Laguna Forums October 06, 2011 at 11:58 PM
" thousands of citizens of all ages and political persuasions are taking to the streets in cities large and small all over America to protest the inequity of a entrenched mindset that favors the fortunes of 1 percent of our population at the expense of the other 99 percent." You mean the 1% that pays more taxes than 50% who pay no taxes? When you have 50% of the people paying nothing and having no skin in the game besides collecting what others are paying into it then you are right it is not equitable. I'm all for a flat tax where EVERYONE pays something. Only then will we have any real changed. Right now the 50% who pay nothing will vote for the party that panders best to them and who had done nothing to help them. What many on the left fail to see is we need to make it easier for businesses to open and operate and employ more Americans. The left doesn't get that. They think we need more government jobs. Government jobs cost taxpayer money. Private jobs do not. The definition of rich for some is what they make +$1.
patchreader October 07, 2011 at 01:14 AM
Owning a home is not a right. It is a privilege that is earned through hard work and savings. Not everyone can own a house. There has always been a market for renting houses because not everyone can afford to purchase. Rents in Elk Grove have never been lower, and Elk Grove has lower housing rents that most other cities in the area. We don't NEED any more "low rent" apartments or townhouses in Elk Grove. Folsom has the right idea.
patchreader October 07, 2011 at 03:55 AM
Currently on the MLS there are properties in Elk Grove listed to purchase below 100k. When you search under 200k, more than 200 properties come up, forcing you to limit your search. Isn't under 200k very affordable for a home? We don't NEED to build more low income properties. We already have them available. No, they aren't set aside or designated "low income", but the prices are more than low enough.
Mark Paxson October 07, 2011 at 05:02 AM
patchreader ... I'm guessing you haven't heard how tight the banks have got with loaning money out. It's anecdotal, but when we were at the EG Nissan dealership a couple of months ago, there was a massive midday crowd there for a couple of hours. I asked the salesman how business was ... "we're packed, but none of them can get loans." I don't want banks to go back to the days of handing out loans like they're candy, but it's not as simple as "houses are cheap, buy one." People who need low income apartments are pretty much not going to be able to qualify for a home loan.
patchreader October 07, 2011 at 02:30 PM
That still doesn't negate the fact that rents for apartments and homes in Elk Grove are already very low and lower than other areas in the region. We don't need to build more anything right now-especially low income homes and apartments. As I said earlier-home ownership is not a right, it's a privilege. And actually, I have recently purchased a new SUV. I had no problem qualifying for the extremely low, 1.9% financing rate offered as a dealer incentive. Why? Because I have good credit, because I live well within my means and don't spend more than my budget allows. We adhere to a strict monthly budget for everything from food, gas, household goods, to entertainment. Saving for retirement and college for our children is our primary goal and that money comes out first. We learned early on the difference between "need" and "want".
Bwood October 07, 2011 at 02:43 PM
patchreader, opinion noted, but you are not the arbiter of what we "need" or "don't need" to build or offer in terms of low income housing here. Saying EG has lower rents than most other cities in the area doesn't mean much when the "norm" is so high. Just for one example, I would think people living on Social Security couldn't afford $1200+ mo.
patchreader October 07, 2011 at 03:31 PM
First, looking at just two websites shows listings for rental houses and apartments for $700-$800 per month. Second-social security isn't designed to be the ONLY thing people live on. What happened to people saving their money? This is why the social security system is going bankrupt. There are too many people relying on it as a sole source of money at retirement and not putting money in to 401ks, pensions, or other retirement funds. Why do it ourselves when we can let the government do it for us?
Bwood October 07, 2011 at 03:59 PM
I don't know what websites you're looking at, but try the newspapers for more realistic examples of rental prices. I'm not going to debate you here about what's wrong or right with Social Security, but your expectations seem to be based on a people-living-in-a-perfect-world scenario.
Elk Grove Laguna Forums October 07, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Rental homes in Elk Grove are not that cheap. There is not much available for under $1300. All these people who lost their homes are now renting so there is a huge demand for rental homes and if you buy a house under $150,000 and put some money down it is a good investment to keep it as a rental and pay your mortgage.
Bob B October 07, 2011 at 04:04 PM
Social Security is going bankrupt because our politicians are using it as their piggy-bank, and there aren't as many workers paying into it as their are recipients - not because retired are using it as their ONLY thing to live on. The amount of money one gets from Social Security is not dependent on what other financial resources one has accumilated. Everyone that has worked during their life-time and paid into Social Security is entitled to a return on their money. The problem is not that people are relying on it as their sole income in retirement (the amount would the same, wether one relies on it or not), but that government has and is mismanaging those funds. Finally, let's say the average payout in Social Security is 1200.00, if rent, as you say, can be gotten for a 'measly' $700-$800 @ mo, that would leave a mere $400 to $500 to pay for food, utilities and other expenses. As for putting your money in 401ks, pensions or savings - we know how easy it is to lose that money. I do agree that people ought not rely on Social Security for their sole income - some do, some don't and some just can't.
Bwood October 07, 2011 at 05:31 PM
That is correct, Elk Grove Laguna Forums. It has been my experience that real estate websites and publications low-ball potential renters with artificially low figures just to get them interested. Bob B, as far as the Social Security issue, unfortunate as it may be, circumstances will always dictate to what extent any given individual relies on it

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