2 Oakland moms take radical stand in battle for housing

After a long search, Dominique Walker found a one-bedroom cottage for $2,000 a month in San Leandro, but the landlord wanted her to pay $8,000 to move in.

“If I had $8,000 laying around, I probably wouldn’t need a place to stay,” she said.

So Walker found another place to stay. The 34-year-old single mother of two young children — who works full time as a community outreach organizer for a tenants rights organization — moved into a three-bedroom house on Magnolia Street in West Oakland.

The house is owned by Wedgewood Properties, a Redondo Beach (Los Angeles County) real estate investment company. Walker didn’t have permission — let alone a lease agreement — when she and Sameerah Karim, another mother struggling to find affordable housing, entered the home. Now, Wedgewood is fighting in court to force Walker and Karim out.

The decision by Walker and Karim to move into the vacant house is part of a protest by a group they and other mothers formed called Moms 4 Housing, which is protesting corporations they see as profiting from displacement of people in black and brown neighborhoods by purchasing foreclosed homes before renovating them and selling them to someone who can afford it.

More than likely, it’s not a person of color.

When I asked Walker how she justified her actions, she said drawing attention to homelessness in Oakland, which increased 47% in just two years, required a radical stand.

“I feel like it’s absolutely necessary, because I believe we’re so desensitized that we don’t even think twice now about encampments,” she said. “It’s an issue and it needs to be addressed.”

 2 Oakland moms take radical stand in battle for housing

Sam Singer, a San Francisco PR executive acting as a spokesman for Wedgewood, told me the mothers chose the wrong method to make an important argument.

“Their beliefs and what they’re saying is heartfelt and it’s important, but no one can condone the theft of property,” Singer said.

Before I continue, let me be clear: I’m not advocating for people to occupy vacant homes in Oakland. I don’t agree with taking something that belongs to someone else. But I do understand why the moms are taking action to retain a foothold in Oakland.

To me, this is about the legacy of undermining black land ownership. The history of this great nation is rife with methods to disenfranchise people of color — from sharecropping to segregation to redlining to predatory lending.

Redlining, the systemic and discriminatory practice of refusing to issue loans or insurance in certain neighborhoods, stifled development and investment. Redlined neighborhoods are more likely to have low-income black and brown residents. Like West Oakland.

And don’t even get me started on the predatory lending practices used to exploit low-income homeowners, spurring the foreclosure crises that paved the way for investment companies to snap up houses for cheap and then sell for profit — or rent at prices people raised in neighborhoods like West Oakland can’t afford.

 2 Oakland moms take radical stand in battle for housing

Wedgewood is paying the price for companies that have made money flipping foreclosed properties in depressed neighborhoods. No matter what a judge decides, the movement has gained support and momentum.

“I can completely understand what they’re doing and why. They’re mothers. What would you expect them to do?” said Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County). “These are hardworking women, and they shouldn’t have to resort to this to keep a roof over their heads and the heads of their children.”

Burke, a single mother, introduced AB22, legislation that would ensure “every child and family has the right to housing.”

Daniel Bornstein, of Bornstein Law firm that specializes in real estate litigation, said he’d be more sympathetic if the mothers occupied a vacant government building.

If the mothers are allowed to stay in the home, Bornstein says, it’ll open up a floodgate of people moving into vacant properties and claiming the right to occupy.

“In the end, the housing crisis is a community issue and a single owner isn’t the sole person to be responsible for the burden,” he said. “It isn’t fair to the individual who owns the house to be responsible for housing people at the expense of others.”

Here’s a brief recap of how we got here: On Nov. 18, the mothers moved into the unlocked house. On Dec. 6, Wedgewood delivered an eviction notice. The mothers filed a right to possession claim, a tactic used in eviction cases when occupants living at an address aren’t named in the original eviction case.

“What is at issue is not about private property versus human rights, it’s about that there are certain business models that are destroying the fabric of our society,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, the legal director for ACCE who is representing the mothers. “You have all of these for-profit speculators and for-profit developers that have business models that are based on essentially taking advantage of the housing crisis.”

Simon-Weisberg contends what the moms are doing isn’t theft, adding that they want to purchase the home.

“You can’t steal a house,” she said. “They’re offering to buy it. The question is why they aren’t selling it.”

Wedgewood won’t entertain any offers until the house is empty, Singer told me.

Wedgewood purchased the Magnolia Street property at a foreclosure auction on July 31 for $501,078. The company plans to renovate it and put it back on the market. The mothers want to make the house the headquarters of their organization to help other struggling families.

Walker, a Castlemont High School graduate who studied sociology at Tougallo College in Mississippi, returned to her hometown to flee domestic violence. Walker’s savings was depleted paying for hotels to sleep in, and by the application and credit-check fees required by most landlords.

“You’re paying your last to get your credit checked, and they’re just keeping your money,” said Walker, who delivers food for extra money when she has spare time and a babysitter.

Someone who works this hard shouldn’t have worry about being homeless.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Otis R. Taylor Jr. appears Mondays and Thursdays. Email: otaylor@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @otisrtaylorjr

Article source: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/otisrtaylorjr/article/2-Oakland-moms-take-radical-stand-in-battle-for-14960452.php

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