San Francisco Chronicle

Moms fight evic­tion from va­cant house

- By Sarah Ra­vani Homelessness · Society · Real Estate · Courts · Social Issues · Business · Law · Oakland, CA · California · Alameda County · ACCE Institute · Hayward · Oakland · Southern California

More than 100 peo­ple gath­ered Mon­day out­side a Hay­ward court­house to sup­port a group of home­less moth­ers who have taken up res­i­dence in a va­cant West Oak­land home.

The prop­erty owner, a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia real es­tate in­vest­ment com­pany that says it plans to ren­o­vate and re­sell the prop­erty, has is­sued an evic­tion no­tice ar­gu­ing that the women are tres­pass­ing and must leave im­me­di­ately.

The case high­lights the grow­ing ten­sions about Oak­land’s hous­ing and home­less­ness cri­sis. Oak­land had a 47% in­crease in home­less­ness in just two years, and 3,210 home­less peo­ple are un­shel­tered, ac­cord­ing to a point­in­time count.

Alameda County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Pa­trick McKin­ney is­sued a ten­ta­tive rul­ing last week that the women don’t have a “valid claim of right to pos­ses­sion,” but said their at­tor­neys could still make their

ar­gu­ments.

On Mon­day, at­tor­neys for the moth­ers ar­gued that “hous­ing is a human right” and the sky­rock­et­ing home­less cri­sis gives the courts author­ity to rule in fa­vor of the moth­ers stay­ing.

At­tor­neys for Wedge­wood Prop­er­ties, the home­own­ers, ar­gued that the moth­ers never had a rental agree­ment at the home.

McKin­ney said the court is “lim­ited” in in­ter­fer­ing “with two pri­vate par­ties.” He said he would make a rul­ing at a later date.

Leah Si­mon­Weis­berg, who rep­re­sents the moth­ers, said it was a good sign that the judge is taking their ar­gu­ments into con­sid­er­a­tion rather than is­su­ing a rul­ing from the bench.

“The court def­i­nitely en­gaged in the ar­gu­ment of whether the moms have a right to pos­ses­sion based on the need that has been cre­ated be­cause of the huge hous­ing cri­sis,” said Si­mon­Weis­berg, le­gal director for the Al­liance of Cal­i­for­ni­ans for Com­mu­nity Em­pow­er­ment.

Do­minique Walker, 34, moved into the home at 2928 Mag­no­lia St. on Nov. 18 with her 1­year­old son and 5­yearold daugh­ter. She was joined by sev­eral other moth­ers and chil­dren.

“We are glad that the judge did con­sider our case, and we con­sider that a win for right now,” said Walker, co­founder of Mom­s4Hous­ing, a col­lec­tive of home­less and marginally housed moth­ers.

The moth­ers say they work, but with high rents they are un­able to find af­ford­able hous­ing in Oak­land.

“We’ve worked multiple jobs, we pay taxes into this city, we barely get the time to spend with our kids be­cause we are try­ing to make sure they have a sta­ble home,” said Misty Cross, one of the moth­ers who lives in the va­cant prop­erty. “It’s re­ally hard for us to keep fo­cus­ing and mov­ing for­ward with so many blocks in our path.”

The case has re­ceived at­ten­tion from sev­eral City Coun­cil mem­bers who ar­gue that Wedge­wood Prop­er­ties should di­rectly ne­go­ti­ate with the Oak­land Com­mu­nity Land Trust, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that ac­quires land for af­ford­able hous­ing.

Oak­land Com­mu­nity Land Trust has said it is will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Wedge­wood to ac­quire the prop­erty. But Wedge­wood has re­fused.

“These squat­ters broke into Wedge­wood’s home,” said Sam Singer, a spokesman for the prop­erty own­ers. “We are not go­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with them after they have stolen our prop­erty, that’s not how hon­est ne­go­ti­a­tions works.”

Singer said that Wedge­wood — which bought the prop­erty in July for $501,078 — has plans to share the prof­its from re­selling the home with Shel­ter 37, a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion. Those prof­its would go to­ward help­ing atrisk youths.

Gary Geiser, Wedge­wood’s CEO, is a board mem­ber at Shel­ter 37. At a real es­tate fo­rum in 2015, Geiser said the com­pany buys about 250 fore­closed and nearly fore­closed homes a month and flips them.

But Councilwom­an Nikki For­tu­nato Bas said Shel­ter 37 doesn’t “have a his­tory in Oak­land” or a “track record in Oak­land” and urged the com­pany to work with the Oak­land Com­mu­nity Land Trust in­stead.

“This is truly a bat­tle be­tween a Go­liath cor­po­ra­tion that has been prof­it­ing off the fore­clo­sure cri­sis,” Bas said. “What these moms are do­ing to­day is in­cred­i­bly coura­geous be­cause they are on the front lines of set­ting a new nar­ra­tive about moral­ity, jus­tice and hu­man­ity to ad­dress the home­less cri­sis that we are all fac­ing.”

 ?? Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle ?? Sharena Thomas re­acts to the out­pour­ing of sup­port she and other Oak­land moth­ers are re­ceiv­ing in their hous­ing case.
Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle Sharena Thomas re­acts to the out­pour­ing of sup­port she and other Oak­land moth­ers are re­ceiv­ing in their hous­ing case.
 ?? Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle ?? Sup­port­ers of women oc­cu­py­ing a va­cant Oak­land home form a block­ade out­side the house to op­pose their evic­tion.
Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle Sup­port­ers of women oc­cu­py­ing a va­cant Oak­land home form a block­ade out­side the house to op­pose their evic­tion.

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