The search for decent housing Community leaders come together to discuss the housing crisis in Salinas

Construction on a new affordable housing complex called Moon Gate Plaza in Salinas. | Kyle Martin

TALES FROM THE HOUSING FRONT: See all the stories, or tell your own

By Ilyne Junuén Castellanos

Photos by Claudia Meléndez Salinas

Resi Salvador is a first-year student of psychology at California State University at Monterey Bay and is the first in her family to attend university. Her housing situation is not ideal, as she lives with nine people in a two-bedroom apartment, but she does not let her circumstances hinder her education.

“My parents, like many of you, did not receive an education,” she said in Spanish. “Why? Because of necessity … some of you did not even finish elementary school which is the case of my great-grandparents, my grandfather, and my father. I am the first in my family to have a higher education. Therefore, I am breaking that cycle… In being the first to have an education, in being the first to help my parents, and in being the first woman to not be married at 13.”

Salvador spoke recently at a community meeting in Salinas sponsored by the Salinas Californian. As a woman of indigenous Mixteca blood, she said she is determined to show that she is not defined by any norms. She is paving the way towards a new legacy for herself and her family.

It cannot be denied that in Salinas, housing prices, overpopulation and lack of accessible housing have come together to create a crisis. The truth is that in this community, many people have stayed in locations that simply should not be acceptable. Community members, however, are organizing to combat this crisis.

Reporter Kate Cimini and photographer Sebastian Hidalgo published an investigation in The Californian which sheds light on the housing crisis and the many people it affects. The report looked into the lives of community members, especially the lives of hardworking families in the agricultural industry.

In addition to publishing the article, the journalists organized a community meeting on Jan. 22 at the Alisal Family Resource Center. “In Salinas, overcrowding and unhealthy living conditions are common… which often leaves the area’s tens of thousands of farmworkers squeezed into garages and living rooms. Entire families might live in one bedroom,” the report said. This harsh but prevalent reality is one of the reasons that prompted reporters to seek a discussion with the community.

The panel that led the discussion included Cimini, Hidalgo, Salvador, members of the Center for Community Advocacy and Eufemia “Jenni” Aguilar. Together, they presented different ways to protect oneself as a tenant, how to teach others to protect their rights, and how the area grew to have such a problem in the first place. This meeting was designed to inform tenants of the various resources available to them and to provide a safe place to voice their questions and concerns.

“Fundamentally, this organization took on the role of educating farmworkers and low-income families by promoting fair, decent and humane housing for the people living in this valley,” said Daniel Gonzalez, executive director of the Community Advocacy Center. CCA has worked to build leadership and help the community learn their rights and know what they can do to improve their living conditions.” Gonzalez, and other leaders such as Phyllis Katz, a lawyer from California Rural Legal Assistance, answered the public’s various questions and offered resources such as brochures describing tenant rights, data on the housing crisis in Salinas, and other organizations that offer help in Monterey County.

Aguilar shared her experience as well. She has lived in her apartment for nearly 10 years, but recently, the apartment owner posted an eviction notice for all of the tenants, expecting them to leave before the first day of January. When asked if she was wary for her future, Aguilar replied, “When the moment comes, you are traumatized. It is a trauma that will chase you for the rest of your days … but I felt courage within me and said no. I will not be silenced, and I will not leave. I will search, and I will fight for my future.” Her strong words and spirit during the meeting inspired members of the community to also share their predicaments, and voice their concerns freely.

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From left to right: photographer Sebastián Hidalgo, CSUMB student Resi Salvador, Center for Community Advocacy Deputy Director Sabino López, CCA Executive Director Daniel González, City of Salinas Community Development Director Megan Hunter, and Salinas resident Eufemia “Jenni” Aguilar. | Photo by Claudia Meléndez Salinas

By creating a safe place for discussion and education, a community forges a path toward strength and unity. In sharing personal experiences, we see that the housing crisis does not just affect some, it affects the entire community. As Kate Cimini said, “Good housing can foster community, creativity, and room for children to play and grow into themselves.” When the community unites to educate and communicate, they pave a path towards a safer future for their children and the future generations to come.

CLARIFICATION: Due to an editing error at The Californian, an earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed  some of its quotes.

Resources:

Center for Community Advocacy 

Salinas: (831) 753-2324, http://cca-viva.org

California Rural Legal Assistance

Salinas: (831) 757-5221, www.crla.org

Salinas Code Enforcement 

Salinas (831) 758 – 7157, www.cityofsalinas.org

Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management 

Seaside (831) 582-5234, https://mandellgisnetcenter.org

Cesar Chavez Public Library 

Salinas (831) 758-7345, https://salinaspubliclibrary.org

Monterey County Law Library

Monterey (831) 264-4207, www.co.monterey.ca.us

Legal Services for Seniors

Salinas (831) 442-7700, www.lssmc.net

Tenants Together

San Francisco (888) 495-8020, www.tenantstogether.org

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Ilyen Junuén Castellanos

About Ilyen Junuén Castellanos

Ilyne Junuén Castellanos is a graduate of Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas and is pursuing a double major in political science and Spanish at Hartnell College.