Home­less women must leave house they’re oc­cu­py­ing

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - News - By JANIE HAR

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Home­less women who are il­le­gally oc­cu­py­ing a house in the ex­pen­sive San Fran­cisco Bay Area do not have the right to stay and must leave within five days, a judge ruled Fri­day.

Alameda County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Patrick McK­in­ney pre­vi­ously is­sued a ten­ta­tive rul­ing in fa­vor of Wedge­wood Inc., a real es­tate in­vest­ment group that bought the Oak­land prop­erty at a fore­clo­sure auc­tion last year.

Still, he al­lowed lawyers for one of the women, Do­minique Walker, and her re­cently formed col­lec­tive, Moms 4 Hous­ing, to make their case. They ar­gued that hous­ing is a right and that the court must give the women the right to pos­sess the house, es­pe­cially be­cause it sat va­cant for so long and the al­ter­na­tive would be to send the women to live on the streets.

The judge de­nied Walker’s re­quest to of­fer ex­pert tes­ti­mony on the right to hous­ing through fed­eral and in­ter­na­tional law.

“The court rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of th­ese is­sues but, as raised in con­nec­tion with Ms. Walker’s claim of right to posses­sion, finds that they are out­side the scope of this pro­ceed­ing,” McK­in­ney wrote.

The case re­flects Cal­i­for­nia’s se­vere hous­ing short­age and grow­ing num­bers of home­less peo­ple. Fed­eral of­fi­cials said last month that an uptick in the coun­try’s home­less pop­u­la­tion was driven en­tirely

by a 16% in­crease in Cal­i­for­nia, where the me­dian sales price of a home is $500,000 and is even higher in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area.

The women and their chil­dren moved into the three-bed­room house in Novem­ber, partly to protest the meth­ods of spec­u­la­tors who they say snap up dis­tressed homes and leave them empty de­spite the hous­ing cri­sis.

“Wedge­wood takes no plea­sure in hav­ing the sher­iff en­force the court’s or­der to

evict the squat­ters,” com­pany spokesman Sam Singer said in a state­ment. “The so­lu­tion to Oak­land’s hous­ing cri­sis is not the re­dis­tri­bu­tion of ci­ti­zens’ homes through il­le­gal break-ins and seizures by squat­ters.”

The women are not sur­prised by the rul­ing but have no plans to leave the house, their lawyer said.

“We un­der­stand that the court’s hands are tied be­cause in this coun­try prop­erty rights are val­ued over hu­man rights,” said Leah Si­mon-Weis­berg, an at­tor­ney from the Al­liance of Cal­i­for­ni­ans for Com­mu­nity Em­pow­er­ment, which is help­ing the women in court.

If they won’t leave vol­un­tar­ily, sher­iff’s deputies would force them out within five days.

“This is the be­gin­ning of a move­ment,” Walker said Fri­day. “We’re here, and we’re not leav­ing.”

Moms 4 Hous­ing in­ter­rupted an Oak­land press con­fer­ence this week on leg­is­la­tion to boost hous­ing con­struc­tion, shout­ing “af­ford­able hous­ing now.” The women, who have got­ten sup­port from some law­mak­ers, want Re­dondo Beach­based Wedge­wood to sell the prop­erty to a non­profit land trust.

Walker, 34, who has one- and five-yearold daugh­ters, has said she moved back to her na­tive Oak­land from Mis­sis­sippi last year but could not find a place to live in the pricey mar­ket. She said many of the peo­ple who used to live in her neigh­bor­hood have been forced out by ris­ing prices.

“Hous­ing is a hu­man right. I pay bills there. I pay wa­ter, PG&E, in­ter­net. We live there,” Walker said. “We want to pur­chase the home ... it needs to be­long back in the hands of the com­mu­nity. It was stolen through the fore­clo­sure cri­sis.”

Wedge­wood pur­chased the home for $501,000 and took posses­sion days af­ter the women moved in, Singer said. The 1908 house has one bath­room and is about 1,500 square feet.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Moms 4 Hous­ing mem­ber Do­minique Walker (left), ac­tivist and 2018 Oak­land may­oral can­di­date Cat Brooks (right) and other ac­tivists re­act as sup­port­ers chant “power to the moms” last month out­side a home in West Oak­land. Walker and other home­less women took over the va­cant house and moved in last Novem­ber.

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