On January 3, 2020 WBUR’s Tonya Mosley and Serena McMahon reported “In California, homelessness has been labeled by many as a “crisis” — more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless population lives in the state. Homelessness in the state grew by more than 16% — about 21,300 people — in 2019 alone, according to the latest official count by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Oakland, homelessness increased nearly 50% over the past two years due, in large part, to rising rents and evictions.
On January 8, 2020 NPR’s Molly Solomon reported “According to the most recent count, more than 4,000 Oakland residents are experiencing homelessness. Meanwhile, the city estimates the number of vacant properties at around 4,300.” Aaron Glantz, author of Homewreckers, said “corporate entities like Wedgewood have been acquiring properties across the country.” “As families began to lose their homes to foreclosure in 2008 and 2009, it wasn’t other people that came in and bought those homes. It was speculators buying through shell companies.” “In 2016, Wedgewood’s CEO boasted that the company purchased over 200 foreclosed or soon-to-be foreclosed homes nationwide a month, calling the distressed housing market “hot and sexy.”
On January 14, 2020 Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and Juan González reported “Moms 4 Housing: Meet the Oakland Mothers Facing Eviction After Two Months Occupying Vacant House” On November 18, 2019, Dominique Walker, one of the co-founders of Moms 4 Housing, moved into 2928 Magnolia Street in West Oakland California. Wedgewood Properties owned the vacant house and tried to evict them for illegally squatting on private property. The mothers filed a “right to possession” claim, saying housing is a human right. Dominique Walker said “There’s four vacant houses for every one homeless person in Oakland. We are reclaiming this house from a billion-dollar corporation who bought this house at a foreclosed price. It has been vacant for two years while people are living out on the street. We felt like this was necessary to take this step.” She also said “There are 6,000 to 8,000 folks sleeping on the streets. And that’s not even accounting for all of the unhoused people and housing-insecure. This house was owned by Wedgewood, a company that is a displacement machine. They’re composed of five different companies. They all play a role in the direct displacement of people. We’re taking a stand, and it doesn’t end with one house. We want to take Oakland back from all speculators. We’re not going to stop organizing until we all have shelter. I was born and raised in Oakland. And most of folks are either displaced out, at least 45 minutes to a couple hours out, or they’re displaced onto the street.”
Amy Goodman said” “It’s not so much an issue of scarcity, but of distribution.” Democracy Now’s Marianne Maeckelbergh reported “In the last two years, homelessness in Oakland has increased by 47%. With average rental rates in Oakland rising to nearly $3,000 a month, there are few or no options for most people looking for housing.”
Carroll Fife, the director of the Oakland office for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment said “After the housing crisis and the foreclosure crisis of 2008, many homeowners lost their primary residences — their only residences. And so that allowed speculators and the banks that were bailed out by the government at that time to come in and scoop up homes at rock-bottom prices. So, that is still happening, and we’re still experiencing the impacts of the foreclosure crisis, with speculators owning 35% of the housing stock in America.” “So, some state that Oakland has the worst speculation crisis in the country. And that’s observable by how high the rents are. You have the median one-bedroom market-rate unit starting at around $2,500 a month. And so, the housing wage, which is different from the minimum wage or living wage, in Alameda County, where Oakland is located, is $40.88 per hour. And that is out of reach for many of Oakland’s working-class people.” “Wedgewood Properties has approximately 96 subsidiaries. And they are the real estate speculator that is holding the deed for Moms’ House. They are in the business of buying homes at rock-bottom prices and flipping them. And that is part of the problem why housing is so unaffordable in cities like Oakland. They buy houses by bulk, so 100 to 200 properties per month, if not more, in distressed neighborhoods — their words — and then they flip them and sell them to the highest bidder. So it puts home prices out of reach for many working-class people. So they drive up the cost of rents and the cost of actually purchasing a home, which is why homeownership levels are so low.”And that’s what’s criminal about this housing crisis. There are actually places where people can live. But because they’re private, they’re privately owned, it makes it difficult to even crack into what a solution could be, because the private industry doesn’t have to be held accountable. And that is what we’re saying is criminal. It should not be legal for anyone that owns property, particularly corporations.And we want to make a distinction, because that’s what’s been thrown around a lot, too, is that if an individual mom-and-pop owner of a property left it empty because they’re on vacation, then somehow Moms 4 Housing is advocating taking people’s personal property. That is completely and patently false. What we’re saying is corporations should not be able to hold vacant properties when there is a housing crisis. There should not be people living on the streets when there are places where they can live.” “This is — Oakland looks like an entirely different city than it did years ago, and it’s strictly due to corporations that are able to rent-gouge when they have homes for rent and charge way over market for homes that are not worth what they’re actually selling them for. And so, this is starting a movement where people who are also experiencing housing insecurity, which means they pay more than 30% of their income in rent, are waking up, because they’ve seen this example of Moms 4 Housing define what the market trends are, and saying, “We deserve housing for all, not just for those who can pay the high price tags.”
On January 15, 2020 NPR’s Molly Solomon interviewed Dominique Walker after her family was evicted. “The sheriffs came in. They came in like an army for mothers and babies.” “Armed officers, some wearing combat fatigues, knocked down the front door before handcuffing two of the mothers, Tolani King and Misty Cross. Two activists supporting the women were also arrested. Outside, a small crowd of protesters shouted down the officers.” They were shouting “Shame on you.”
On January 16, 2020 Mother Jones reporter Marisa Endicott wrote “Police Said They Wouldn’t Be “Confrontational.” Then They Came in Riot Gear to Arrest Homeless Moms.” Oakland city council members, including Nikki Fortunato Bas and president Rebecca Kaplan, even got behind the moms and attempted to negotiate the sale of the home to the Oakland Community Land Trust”. Bas said “What the moms are doing is an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, saying that there was a human right to housing, a right to adequate housing.” “This movement is just beginning, and we see what we’re up against, but we also see what they’re afraid of. They’re afraid of us mobilizing over 300 people in 15 minutes. That’s what we did. Because we all care, and we all have humanity, and we want to change this system.”
On January 20, 2020 KQED’s Kate Wolff reported “Moms 4 Housing Group Reaches Agreement to Buy Vacant House”. At an Oakland demonstration on Martin Luther King Day, Moms 4 Housing announced an agreement to buy the home through the Oakland Community Land Trust from Wedgewood. “Members of the group say once the sale goes through, they plan to move into the house and make it a headquarters for their movement. ”Dominque Walker said “We will not stop organizing and fighting until all unhoused folks who want shelter, have shelter.” Carroll Fife, director of Oakland Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a non-profit that supported Moms 4 Housing, called the agreement “a huge step.” “What they’re doing is conceding to the pressure that’s been put on them by this movement,” Fife said about Wedgewood.
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