Moms 4 Housing and the fight for community ownership

Sunny Shen/Staff

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When Dominique Walker and Sameerah Karim moved into the vacant lot at 2829 Magnolia St. in West Oakland with their children, they were prepared to stay for as long as possible. Both women were unhoused mothers and needed a place for them and their kids to stay, however, they were also hoping to make a statement about the current housing crisis in the Bay Area.

In Oakland, the number of homeless people grew by 47% in the last two years. In the same amount of time, around 2,700 new apartments have been built in Oakland. The issue many are facing isn’t a lack of housing — it’s a lack of affordable housing. 

Almost all of the apartments that have sprung up in the city recently are categorized as “luxury,” and practically nothing has been built specifically for low-income renters. With no affordable housing options in the area, they are simply pushed out of the market, with many being evicted from their homes.

These homes are often sold by banks to large real estate companies who refurbish and “flip” the houses to resell them for higher prices. This was the plan that Wedgewood Properties, a Southern California firm, had for the home in West Oakland that the moms were living in.

Walker and Karim, who were later joined by other mothers without adequate housing, had moved into the house two days before Wedgewood purchased the property. Before this, the house had sat vacant for years.

Regardless of these facts, the California Superior Court of Alameda ruled in favor of Wedgewood, who wanted the mothers evicted from the property. A few days later, the moms were forcibly removed from the home by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

The moms continue to remind the public that housing is a human right.

Walker has been vocal on social media throughout the whole process and also spoke in a press conference for KTVU. The moms continue to remind the public that housing is a human right. Walter stated that especially when there are currently so many vacant homes in Oakland, they should be allowed to occupy the property.

The situation has inspired public debate over the moms’ actions and has also posed an important question — whether or not housing truly is a human right. If it is, what does that look like?

Many Twitter users have shown their support for the moms, using the hashtag #IStandWithTheMoms. Many have also opposed the movement, however, making claims that the moms were squatting illegally and just trying to avoid paying rent.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.” According to this statement, it’s the government’s obligation to provide housing to its citizens, yet so many people are clearly not being accommodated.

The moms took this problem into their own hands, citing the declaration as evidence for their position. Under this understanding, the women of Moms 4 Housing were acting within their rights to move into the abandoned home.

Those without homes in Oakland have a right to housing, yet more than 4,000 are currently homeless. Now that Moms 4 Housing has gained recognition and support, many other unhoused people in Oakland and the greater Bay Area have joined the movement. They claim that the movement has offered them support and made them feel less alone in the struggle to live during the housing crisis.

Community support for the movement is strong. More than a hundred people came to protest the moms’ eviction from the property on Jan. 12 and even more people have shown their support for the moms on social media.

Wedgewood Properties, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and California Gov. Gavin Newsom have all released public statements on the situation. Right now, Wedgewood is in agreement to sell the house to an organization called Oakland Community Land Trust, which will, in turn, sell the home to the mothers for no more than its appraised value.

Additionally, Oakland City Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas has introduced legislation that would give Oakland renters the right of first refusal — meaning that renters would get the first chance to buy a property before landlords sell it to developers.

It’s a huge win for the community and its supporters, but the moms say their activism isn’t over.

Compared to rates in 2000, housing prices have risen more than 250%. This proposed law would protect renters and hopefully halt the trend of housing prices rising so dramatically. The law is still in its infancy, but it’s a step toward a more affordable and equitable housing market in Oakland.

Right now, it looks like the moms will get to buy the home on Magnolia Street. It’s a huge win for the community and its supporters, but the moms say their activism isn’t over. The Moms 4 Housing movement, which has a strong presence on social media and now has its own website, is still going strong.

The women of Moms 4 Housing want to continue supporting unhoused families and fighting to change the conditions that have become so inequitable in Oakland. Their goal is to take back Oakland from big banks and faceless real estate companies, putting the ownership of the community back into the hands of residents.

Contact Sarah Frechette at [email protected].