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Why so few places to live in Modesto? A clue. It has to do with raging economy.

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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.


Note to readers: Modesto is facing a housing affordability and availability crisis. The Modesto Bee is investigating how renters and home buyers are making it work as the cost of living rises in Stanislaus County. Local journalism like this matters. And your support makes it possible. Subscribe by clicking here.

Job growth is a leading indicator of economic recovery.

But are you living the dream if a large percentage of your paycheck goes to housing costs, or a shabby apartment in Modesto or Turlock is all you can afford?

In cities across the country, housing construction has not kept up with a long streak of job growth that followed the terrible recession of 2008 and 2009, according to a study by Apartment List, an online apartment-finding service.

In the Modesto area, the economy added 18,324 jobs between 2008 and 2018 or 3.4 jobs per 1,000 residents. During the same time period, less than 1 permit for housing construction was issued per 1,000 residents. The study concluded that 4.2 jobs were created here for every building permit issued for housing.

It’s a clear sign that new construction in our area has lagged behind the needs of the workforce.

The Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, along with Stanislaus and Merced counties, were among the regions of California that added the most jobs coupled with a lag in housing construction, the study found.

The demand for housing in Modesto and the undersupply of dwellings are primary reasons for a 53 percent increase in average apartment rents since December 2013.

Nationwide, housing construction has not fully recovered from the collapse caused by massive subprime mortgage defaults more than a decade ago. Building permits were at an all-time low nationally in mid-2009. According to Apartment List, the number of permits issued last year was 38 percent below the total in 2005.

In more recent years, the limited amount of building in the Modesto market has placed some focus on apartments and duplexes, though not enough to relieve the housing shortage.

About 16 percent of permits issued between 2006 and 2018 were for multi-family dwellings, which is compared to just 8 percent during the home-building craze of 1990 to 2005.

The rapid pace of home construction pre-recession spawned the political efforts to control sprawl in Stanislaus County. Approved by voters in 2008, Measure E prohibits residential growth today in unincorporated areas without a public vote, and a county policy requires projects to mitigate the loss of farmland.

It pretty much limits new construction to cities.

Some believe that a wise use of space should govern any future home-building in Stanislaus County.

Steven Zagaris, a management executive for Liberty Property Management, sees a problem with the building industry’s fixation on large homes, or squeezing as much house on a smaller lot.

“Those houses appeal to my generation,” said Zagaris, 37. The newest generation of young adults is not having families and favors smaller, less expensive houses.

According to Apartment List, policy makers in other regions of the country are encouraging multi-family residential development in areas that were set aside for construction of spacious homes.

Seattle has eliminated zoning for single-family residential in some neighborhoods. A recent bill passed in Oregon is expected to remove single-family zoning in cities to make room for duplexes, triplexes and “cottage clusters.”

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