At the time, a rotating group of at least four mothers, who called themselves Moms 4 Housing, had moved into the house to protest speculation and gentrification in the city. The home was owned by Wedgewood Properties, a Southern California real estate investment company that bought and flipped properties, and it had been vacant before they illegally moved in.
Moms 4 Housing pointed out that Wedgewood profited from Oakland real estate while many low-income families had been pushed out of their housing. Wedgewood had purchased the home at a foreclosure sale for $500,000 in July 2019 and took possession two days after the mothers came in.
Eventually, Wedgewood sold the home to the Oakland Community Land Trust for about $580,000. In a statement to The Chronicle, Wedgewood said it is “pleased to have worked with the Oakland Land Trust to improve the community and help those in need.”
The trust then handed it over to Moms 4 Housing, which is now a nonprofit and has spent the past few years fixing up the property. It’s only now that the first official residents have moved in: Bry’ana Wallace, a 24-year-old single mother, and her 1-year-old son.
“I love it,” Wallace said. “The fact that I can just have a place where I can go and have peace of my own — it feels really, really good.”
The mothers’ case highlighted growing tensions around the city’s housing and homelessness crisis. In 2019, the city had a 47% increase in homelessness in just two years, the largest jump in the region, to 4,071, with 3,210 of them unsheltered. Housing experts agree that the number has likely increased due to economic insecurity spurred by the pandemic.
“Mom’s House is a symbol of what is possible when the will is there,” said Council Member Carroll Fife.
Fife, the lead organizer behind Moms 4 Housing, said she’s not running the organization; rather, some of the mothers involved, including Dominique Walker, are at the helm.
“We had to break all of the rules to show the world what was possible,” she said.
Another mother and two children will join Wallace this year and all will receive wraparound services — including therapy and financial planning. The mothers must pay one-third of their income toward rent at “Mom’s House,” where they can stay for up to two years. They’ll get help building their credit and moving into permanent housing.
Just two years earlier, the home was uninhabitable with black, moldy ceilings and crumbling walls. Renovations took longer than expected due to delays due to building permits and the pandemic, Fife said.
Moms 4 Housing raised about $400,000 in individual donations to renovate the home, adding an extra bathroom, installing new kitchen appliances and rebuilding the ceiling.
While the home will only shelter five people, it still helps solve the region’s housing crisis, said Tomiquia Moss, the founder and CEO of Bay Area homelessness nonprofit All Home. The crisis is so severe that no one solution will solve the problem, but cities should say “yes” to “housing of all types,” said Moss. Moss said rehabbing old homes is key to fighting homelessness because it typically takes less time and money to make those homes available.
“We know that those solutions work, there is data to back it up,” Moss said. “We need more of those in the region in order to meet our housing goals.”
Walker, one of the original mothers who moved into the home in 2019, said Moms 4 Housing hopes to rehab more homes.
The group is working with the Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, an Oakland nonprofit that offers workforce training programs for women in construction and building trades, to find future candidates for Mom’s House. Walker said they hope to eventually employ the mothers who’ve completed the job training to help renovate the homes.
Wallace, who completed electrical, brick laying and elevator training programs, worked at several construction sites before working as a manicurist in a nail salon. But after totaling her vehicle in an accident, she can’t drive to work and lost her income — though that won’t jeopardize her place at Mom’s House.
Wallace, who is from Oakland, was raised mostly in Antioch by her grandmother. When her grandmother died four years ago, Wallace didn’t have anywhere to go. Wallace, whose mother is also homeless, wound up living in her vehicle before her aunt in Oakland offered her a place to stay.
Javyon Landry, Wallace’s boyfriend, said he and Wallace have wanted to find a home together, but don’t qualify for apartments that require tenants to make three times the rent. Landry, who just completed training to become a barber, lives with his mother in Oakland.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said.
Fife and Walker said Wallace is the type of person — potentially vulnerable to chronic homelessness — that they hope to help through their efforts.
Both Fife and Walker have joined local government. Fife was elected to the Oakland City Council in 2020, replacing a two-term incumbent, and Walker was elected to the rent board in Berkeley, where she currently lives.
Fife said she plans to examine whether a social housing pilot will be possible in Oakland — a similar idea to public housing that would develop housing for low-income people as well as middle-income households whose rent would help subsidize their neighbors. She added that she plans to introduce housing legislation this year, but declined to give specifics.
Walker said, through her seat on Berkeley’s rent board, she plans to keep fighting for tenant rights.
Moms 4 Housing also inspired city action: Legislation was introduced in Oakland and Berkeley that gives tenants the first right of refusal to purchase the home they live in if its goes up for sale. Berkeley officials are still discussing the legislation. Oakland’s efforts have been on hold.
State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, also introduced state legislation, which Gov. Newsom signed into law, that allows cities and counties to fine corporations that let their properties sit vacant for more than 90 days. The legislation was designed to prevent large corporations from purchasing foreclosed homes.
On a recent day, Fife and Walker walked through the new house — pointing out the new blue paintings to be hung on the walls and the lemon tree in the backyard.
“Every time I come here I get emotional because my son took his first steps here,” Walker said. “Just the benefit of having a shelter and a space for your children is super important. This isn’t enough — we really have to keep organizing.”
Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SarRavani