On Monday, November 18, 2019, two mothers boldly began occupying a West Oakland house that had been vacant for two years on Magnolia Street. Dominique Walker, 34, and Sameerah Karim, 41, members of Moms 4 Housing, wanted to draw attention to Bay Area housing speculation. Real estate investors are sitting on thousands of vacant properties in Oakland at the same time as the homeless crisis in Oakland: where forty-seven percent of unhoused residents are Black and 17 percent are Latinx.
Unlike many “squatters” who may sneak into properties and remain quiet, Walker and Karim walked in the front door and made noise about the lack of affordable housing and displacement in Oakland.
“No one should be homeless when homes are sitting empty,” reads the Moms 4 Housing mission statement. “Housing is a human right,” a sentiment that resonates with Bay Area residents that have seen rent increases to “market rate” or walked past tents, abandoned mattresses, or RVs on Oakland streets.
The Moms asked the property owner, Southern California-based Wedgewood Properties to sell to the home to Oakland’s Community Land Trust, a community-run non-profit organization. The home would then become and remain permanently affordable. As stewards of the property, the Oakland CLT would remove the property from the speculative market and become stewards of the property in order to keep the property accessible and affordable.
Wedgewood hired PR firm Singer and Associates and instead offered to pay for moving costs to a homeless shelter operated by Catholic Charities of East Bay, for two months.
Moms 4 Housing refused and called the offer “disingenuous.”
“It is deeply disingenuous for this multi-million dollar corporation, through their multi-million dollar public relations firm, to pretend to be concerned about the well being of Black families,.” the Moms said in a statement.
Wedgewood then claimed in December to want to hire “at-risk youth” to renovate the formerly vacant home and operate it as a shelter in partnership with a Los Angeles-based group. Reports later revealed Wedgewood CEO Greg Geiser was a board member of Shelter 37, which had never operated in Oakland.
The Moms attempted to fight an eviction order filed by Wedgewood. On January 10, 2020, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in Wedgewood, rejecting the Moms 4 Housing credo “Housing is a human right,” the Mercury News reported.
The day before Martin Luther King’s birthday, January 14, marked a pivotal moment for the mothers and the movement. At 5:15 a.m., Alameda County Sheriffs’ Office arrived in a show of force, deputies armed with AR-15s, tactical gear, and a tank to remove the mothers and two supporters from the home. Police arrested the Moms and supporters, who were later released on a $5,000 bond. Moms 4 Housing started a petition calling for the Sheriff’s Office to be held accountable and to “Protect Moms & Babies from Tanks, AR-15s, and Tactical Troops.”
Days later, city officials announced Moms 4 Housing’s victory: Wedgewood agreed to sell the property to the Land Trust and allow the Moms to return. “We won’t stop until everyone is housed,” Misty Cross, one of the evicted moms said. “We want housing to be a human right.”