Alfred Diaz-Infante: In His Own Words Housing advocate died Monday

Alfred Diaz-Infante | Photo illustration by Joe Livernois


By Joe Livernois

Alfred Diaz-Infante was a low-key leader, the sort of gentleman who didn’t command much attention until he’d quietly come up with the solution everyone else in the room was loudly trying to find.

Diaz-Infante was the president and chief executive officer of CHISPA Inc., otherwise known as the Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association. Otherwise known as the go-to affordable housing agency geared mostly to farmworkers on the Central Coast.

Diaz-Infante was pronounced dead on Monday evening after the car he was driving ran off the roadway and crashed on Davis Road near Rossi Street in Salinas, the city in which he was born 60 years ago.

He was the child of farmworkers who attended Hartnell College, who earned his BA at CSU Sacramento and his MBA at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He returned to Salinas after college, fell into CHISPA at a time of administrative turmoil within the agency, and quickly took over as the stable and able boss: the strong, silent type who got things done.

In its 40 years, CHISPA built more than 2,300 units in three counties, including 1,500 rentals it built and administers and 800 homes it sold at below-market prices. In fact, Diaz-Infante liked to say  the experience of his own parents encouraged him to promote home ownership, as CHISPA patched together convoluted federal, state and local housing programs to get lower-income Central Coast residents into homes they can call their own.

More than that, Diaz-Infante and CHISPA made certain to create a neighborhood vibe in its developments, establishing community rooms and centers when possible, and offering educational services, including tutors and literacy classes, to residents of all ages.

His sudden death came as a shock to housing advocates and social-justice activists in the region. State Sen. Anna Caballero said she was “devastated” by the news, calling Diaz-Infante a good friend. She and Diaz-Infante worked on affordable housing projects together while she was mayor of Salinas. Building Healthy Communities, a social-service agency in Salinas, issued a statement Wednesday calling Diaz-Infante “a genuine man of the people.”

“It can be hard to imagine where Monterey County would be without his work and dedication to ensuring that families could afford to have a roof over their head,” the statement reads.

For many years, the journalists now at Voices of Monterey Bay covered CHISPA and Diaz-Infante, including the various controversies over the Moro Cojo subdivision CHISPA built on Castroville Boulevard in North Monterey County. Later, two of us (Claudia Meléndez Salinas and me) served with him as staff and board members for the Literacy Campaign for Monterey County.

Over the years, Diaz-Infante wrote about housing issues and granted several expansive interviews. Gleaned from those interviews and his written words, the following are samples of Diaz-Infante’s thoughts and attitudes about housing, about growing up in Salinas, and about the American Dream:


Once you have a home you’re grounded and there’s a lot of studies that have been made about that. And I know that was the case with my family. My parents came here as immigrants in 1961, and 10 years later — even though my mom worked as a farm worker, my dad eventually … worked as a field mechanic and fabricator welder — they were able to buy a home. It was a 1,250 square-foot home, attached housing, medium density development. But it was a home for them. … I think that’s the American dream of homeownership, because I still recall the moment that we moved into the house and my parents were so proud of this brand new house.

It was a brand new house, just a spanking new house in a new subdivision here in the city of Salinas. And all of a sudden, they got involved with our school. They said, hey, we’re going to get involved with our kids’ school. And can I give credit to the purchase of that house because my parents became very involved with our education. Both my parents were very active with what was known as the migrant education program, and they were showing up to school meetings and making sure that we were taking the right classes. My parents … only had a sixth grade education, but they wanted something better for us.

And that’s America’s purpose. How do we lift up families? How do we lift up our community? How do we lift up this country? It’s through progress into these kinds of opportunities. And so I’m really happy to be able to give back, but I do give credit to the experience my parents had because they became homeowners, and all of a sudden, they became much more involved. It was shortly after that that my parents became U.S. citizens. They were proud to be U.S. citizens and once they became citizens, they voted every time, and became very actively involved in politics and what was happening.

— From “What’s America’s Purpose?,” a podcast hosted by Matt Bogoshian, Oct. 20, 2020


Shortly after (my parents) bought, we had the first wave of huge price increases. Those times are gone. I don’t think we’re ever going to get back to the time when working families are able to buy homes. They were able to build equity. My sister is a doctor, and I got a master’s in business administration. I see what equity does. It helps create more opportunities.

— Monterey County Weekly, 2015


We children had endless places to play. Sometimes if family members were working in a field of lettuce or broccoli or celery, we would rush out to hang out with them. Or we would just climb trees or go looking for bugs, fish and frogs.

The calming aspect of nature, the peace and beauty of it, was important in our lives.

— From Community Printers, date unknown


The issues facing the community are really different from the issues facing (the CHISPA) board. I wish for more people to understand this and to have appreciation and empathy. Our board includes businessmen and lawyers and that mentality wants a roadmap, details, assurances, but that’s not always possible when you’re working with a community. There’s a difference between power and authority.

— From “Convergence: A story of people, place and opportunity at Carr Lake,” by Peter Forbes, August. 2018


We learned that many residents (of Acosta Plaza in Salinas) were afraid to come out of their units, and did not know who their neighbors were. They wanted that changed.

To get things started,young people who live in Acosta Plaza were equipped with cameras and asked to go around the neighborhood, taking pictures of things they liked, and things they didn’t like. Several focused on a basketball court — one of the few spaces for community gatherings — that was rundown and didn’t have a basket.

The kids presented the findings of their survey of Acosta Plaza to parents. And that led to more gatherings — and ideas for community events, including a clean-up day, a reenactment of the story of Christmas, and a celebration of Children’s Day … The young people formed a committee, Youth for Change, and raised money from the city and foundations to remake the basketball court area. They wanted more than a new court — they planned a barbecue pit, picnic tables and a tot lot for the 2- to 5-year-old set, as well …

The progress at Acosta Plaza holds several lessons. These include the importance of peer-to-peer acknowledgment, both between young people, and between residents, of shared perceptions and goals. Public acknowledgment of the work of young people is also powerful.

— “What Happens When You Give Kids a Voice in the Planning Process,” by Alfred Diaz-Infante, Zócalo, July 28, 2015


My vision is that more and more people in Salinas will strengthen themselves by being on the land and in nature. For Latinos, nature is our culture. We are descendants of Aztecs and Mayans. Many of us here come from rural places where we are very familiar with nature. I know horses, the beaches, the acacias. Latinos didn’t have a nature deficit disorder until we arrived here in Salinas.

— From “Convergence: A story of people, place and opportunity at Carr Lake,” by Peter Forbes, August. 2018


What happens in Monterey County may not be happening in other counties. I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of our economy. It’s an agricultural-based economy, number one. And number two, we have this beautiful coastline here on the Monterey Peninsula that we want to preserve. We were really very intentional about and strategic about where growth was going to happen. for many different reasons, from protecting our ag land and protecting our coastal scenery. But also locating housing where the services are. To me, that makes sense.

— From “What’s America’s Purpose?,” a podcast hosted by Matt Bogoshian, Oct. 20, 2020


It’s what people still call the American Dream. And unfortunately it’s more and more challenging now for working families to achieve the American Dream because of the high cost of a home, because it takes such a large amount of downpayment to buy a home. But I saw the difference it made in our family. So that’s why I do it. When I see working families that are buying our homes or working families that are moving into our new apartments it’s like seeing my own family achieving that American Dream.

— From “Central Coast Chat,” a podcast with The Salinas Californian (date unknown)

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.