SALINAS, Calif. - A new affordable housing complex in Salinas is kicking off construction.
Community leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday in what they are calling "a new Chinatown for all."
City and county leaders describe this project in two parts: one being to create more housing units to help the homeless and the other to revitalize the historic neighborhood that has a rich Asian cultural heritage.
If you have ever driven through Soledad Street in Salinas, you will notice the fading relic of a bygone generation.
"Well the Chinese were the first to come here. And as immigrants, they probably had very few places to stay, so they congregated here, they were allowed to actually live here," said Larry Hirahara, a board member of Asian Cultural Experience, a local preservation group.
It is here where Chinese and later Japanese immigrants found a home together. Chinatown is not the bustling neighborhood it once was.
"It was a place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the only place the farm workers had to go. We'd have three to five thousand people down here partying," said Joe Gunter, the mayor of Salinas.
Community leaders want to turn a new chapter in the story of Chinatown.
The new housing complex is called Moon Gate Plaza. It will be a four-story, 90 unit apartment building intended for low and extremely low income households including the homeless. There is going to be onsite support services as well to help people get on their feet too.
"We have a moral obligation as a society to support those among us who are the most vulnerable. And at some time in our lives, either we or someone we care about will be vulnerable," said Betsy Wilson, the director of housing development at MidPen Housing, which is overseeing the project.
Moon Gate Plaza costs $40 million. The City of Salinas and the Monterey County Housing Authority all pitched in. The Central California Alliance for Health also awarded MidPen Housing with $2.5 million in a one-time grant.
MidPen has a clear charitable purpose here. But they also made sure to keep the identity of Chinatown, collaborating with preservation groups.
"So that includes things like the naming, the architectural features and we're trying to maintain a culturally sensitive Asian influence or history of the area," said Hirahara.
"What makes us so good here, it's not just Hispanics, we have a wide diversity of people and we've got to continue to embrace the culture," said Gunter.
The building is expected to be finished by fall of next year.