Homing In

Salinas Councilman Tony Barrera would like to see this burned-out building demolished: “You rebuild it, and we just have the same mess.”

A month after flames engulfed a Garner Avenue apartment building, chain-link fence surrounds the rubble of the place. Metal bed frames and charred cars remain, and the air still reeks of smoke.

The Oct. 18 fire claimed three apartments and displaced 54 people, 22 of them permanently. Lessees qualified for emergency housing at a nearby Motel 6, but many of those 54 residents weren’t on the leases.

“They just scattered,” City Councilman Tony Barrera says.

As City Council prepares to set its 2015 goals at a strategic planning session Jan. 24, Barrera intends to make it a priority to end overcrowding. This building, where families hung sheets to convert two-bedroom apartments into three, is his case study.

“How can we stop this instead of re-creating it?” Barrera says, during a tour of the property in November. “The owner wants to rebuild. I’m against that.”

As Barrera inspects the fire damage, the landlord, Keith Slama, rolls up with an 8-foot ladder to prune trees. Barrera runs his idea past Slama: What if this building were razed to make way for a small park nestled between buildings?

Slama’s position: no way. He bought the place barely a year ago and needs to collect rent to pay off his mortgage.

Besides, he says, overcrowding isn’t his fault: “You give them the rules, but you can’t stand guard. They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”

The Weekly is powered by the generosity of readers like you, who support our mission to produce engaging, independent and in-depth journalism.

Show Your Support
Learn More

That’s why it’s such a challenge to tackle overcrowding. Barrera says he hears frequent complaints from constituents, but they ask him not to notify code enforcement officials. Interventions could put residents on the streets.

“There is definitely an increase in the need for affordable housing,” says Grace Aston, planning manager for the city’s Housing Division.

Aston is beginning to collect data from city residents as part of a five-year plan the city is required to submit to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to receive housing and neighborhood funding for 2015-20.

About a third of Salinas residents – as compared with 21 percent countywide – live in overcrowded conditions, according to the 2010 five-year plan.

Last year, Salinas received about $2.6 million from HUD to spend on housing and neighborhood improvements like lighting and disability access. The county received $865,000. Sinceredevelopment agencies dissolved, eliminating a funding source for inclusionary housing, the HUD money is critical, Aston says: “It’s basically our only source right now.”

Become a Weekly Insider.

Join Us
Learn More

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

Recommended for you

(2) comments


Overcrowding cannot be solved by building a single park where an apartment once stood. Nor can it be solved by taxing market rate developments to pay for low income housing. The city needs to encourage housing density in a comprehensive way that will better utilize infrastructure (water, sewage, transit, etc) and conserve the life-blood in the valley...farming and agriculture land. Bringing more housing units online will decrease the pressure on rents; however, it needs to be in balance with open space, transit, parking, and community resources. Housing density and intensification should be focused on the main arteries in East Salinas by developers with retail on the ground floor of those developments. The city's attention should focus on "smart growth" initiatives along those arteries such as public spaces, bike lanes, rapid bus transit, and programs that encourage developers to build more multi-unit housing projects. The goal should not be "X" number of units, but rather a decrease in rent per square foot.


Overcrowding is a reality until there is adequate affordable housing.
Salinas needs to take extraordinary steps to set a goal of providing thousands of new affordable houses to its residents. One way is to
require future developers of expensive homes to pay 25% of the total cost of the development when on-site, affordable housing is not included in their plans. therefore, that cost is transferred to the buyer for the exclusivity of not having cheaper homes in their neighborhood.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.