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Modesto has a severe housing shortage. Here’s how and when all the problems started.

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Housing in Stanislaus County

Investigating how renters and homebuyers are making it work as the cost of living rises in Stanislaus County.


Modesto became home to more than 12,000 additional residents in the past decade. But finding a home was not so easy for many of them.

The city added about 800 new dwellings between 2010 and 2018. That might have been OK if people lived more communally. But the average household size in California is somewhere between 2.63 and 2.90 people per dwelling.

Those 806 dwelling units were sufficient to house 2,257 adults and children. The city needed five times that amount, or an additional 3,554 dwellings, for that increased population.

This housing shortage is the main reason renters pay dearly for available apartments today in Modesto. The average apartment rent has climbed from $788 per month to $1,205 in little more than five years.

According to Zillow, the median sale price for homes in Modesto was $314,100 last month, which is out of reach for many adults.

Jay French, director of community and economic development for Modesto, said affordability is mostly an issue of how much housing is available. “It’s important to build housing across the income spectrum,” he added.

Modesto and its sister cities in Stanislaus County were once known for permitting thousands of homes each year. That dramatically changed with the Great Recession and the nationwide collapse of the home construction industry.

Homes stopped selling and defaulted mortgages resulted in thousands of foreclosed homes across Modesto.

According to numbers released by City Hall, only 15 new dwellings were added in 2010, and the city neither “built up” nor “out” when the demand for housing slowly returned in the years of economic recovery. French noted that developers had disappeared from the scene, leaving few to invest in subdivisions and apartment buildings.

Less than 100 new dwellings emerged in each year between 2010 and 2016. Slightly more than 500 dwellings were added to the housing market in 2017 and 2018, including 428 homes and 78 apartments and duplexes.

Four projects in the works will increase the supply of apartments in Modesto. Apartment complexes on Healthcare Way and in Kiernan Business Park East will include more than 300 units. Other projects are the 38-unit Scenic Village Apartments on Scenic Drive and a 50-unit complex near Rumble Road and Conant Avenue.

It’s not enough to meet the demand, however.

Several home-building projects also are under way, including the 154-home Icon at Inspiration behind Vintage Faire Mall, priced between $378,000 and $469,000. Woodglen in north Modesto, Trails at Falling Leaf in east Modesto and Almond Grove in southwest Modesto are also expected to put more homes on the market.

French said some local and smaller developers are active. Despite the tight housing market stretching from the Bay Area to the Northern San Joaquin, local officials have not yet seen that home-building pressure that characterized Modesto before the bust 12 years ago.

“The bigger developers are in the Bay Area and are starting to move this way,” French said.

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Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.
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