Hous­ing cri­sis: Moms evicted by deputies

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Janie Har

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> Home­less women or­dered by a Cal­i­for­nia judge last week to leave a va­cant house they il­le­gally oc­cu­pied in Oak­land for two months were evicted be­fore dawn Tues­day by sher­iff’s deputies in a case that high­lighted the state’s se­vere hous­ing short­age and grow­ing num­bers of home­less peo­ple.

Alameda County Sher­iff’s deputies, some dressed in mil­i­tary-style fa­tigues, es­corted two women with the Moms 4 Hous­ing group from the home and bound their hands with plas­tic ties as dozens of ac­tivists on the side­walk chanted “Let the moms go! Let the moms go!” and recorded

the chaotic scene with their cell phones. Two men were also ar­rested.

Video showed one deputy slam­ming a bat­ter­ing ram against the house’s front door.

The women de­cried the show of force and de­clared their fight far from over in a city where a one-night count of home­less jumped 47% in two years to more than 4,000 last year and the me­dian house sales price is about $750,000. Deputies boarded up with ply­wood and a chain link fence was later erected around the prop­erty.

Deputies who car­ried out the evic­tion “came in like an army for moth­ers and ba­bies,” said Do­minique Walker, one of the moth­ers who was not ar­rested. “We have the right to hous­ing. This is just the be­gin­ning.”

How per­ma­nently the women have changed the con­ver­sa­tion around what is an in­tractable — and statewide — prob­lem re­mains to be seen. An uptick in the U.S. home­less pop­u­la­tion last year was driven en­tirely by a 16% in­crease in Cal­i­for­nia, fed­eral of­fi­cials have said, and the gov­er­nor has pledged to tackle the twin crises of home­less­ness and deep hous­ing un­af­ford­abil­ity.

The Oak­land women have said no­body should be home­less when in­vest­ment com­pa­nies are buy­ing and fix­ing up prop­er­ties to sell at profit. The oc­cu­pied house in the dis­tressed

West Oak­land neigh­bor­hood is owned by Wedge­wood Inc., a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia real es­tate in­vest­ment group that bought the prop­erty at a fore­clo­sure auc­tion last year for just over $500,000.

Wedge­wood said it plans to work with the non­profit group Shel­ter 37 to ren­o­vate the prop­erty with help from at-risk youth and will split prof­its from the home’s sale with Shel­ter 37.

Squatting is noth­ing new in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area, said Needa Bee, a home­less mother who works with The Vil­lage in Oak­land group to shel­ter home­less peo­ple, in some cases in­side houses that be­long to oth­ers.

The group iden­ti­fied nine un­oc­cu­pied homes over the last year for 40 home­less peo­ple, she said. Some prop­er­ties tar­geted for squatting in­cluded homes owned by banks and in­vest­ment firms. Oth­ers were homes owned by peo­ple hav­ing trou­ble pay­ing prop­erty taxes, and who wel­comed the home­less as ten­ants in ex­change for the group’s help pay­ing taxes or making re­pairs.

The group also plans to build homes and a so­lar shower on a me­dian strip in an East Oak­land neigh­bor­hood cur­rently used as an il­le­gal trash dump, Bee said.

“We live in a so­ci­ety that is pro-prop­erty own­ers and pro-cap­i­tal­ist so when you have that kind of value sys­tem, you’re go­ing to have peo­ple who live on me­di­ans and who are ha­rassed for liv­ing on me­di­ans,” Bee said.

The women who


evicted Mon­day moved into the three-bed­room house in Novem­ber with their chil­dren, partly to protest the meth­ods of spec­u­la­tors who they have claimed snap up dis­tressed homes and leave them empty de­spite Cal­i­for­nia’s hous­ing short­age.

They also wanted to high­light the plight of African Amer­i­cans in the U.S. who were his­tor­i­cally shut out of own­ing prop­erty and forced into sub­stan­dard neigh­bor­hoods that are now pop­u­lar with wealth­ier, and of­ten whiter, res­i­dents.

“We live in a so­ci­ety that is anti-poverty, that is an­tiblack,” Bee said.

Alameda County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Patrick McK­in­ney ruled Fri­day the women did not have the right to stay and had to leave within five days. McK­in­ney said the court­room was not the place to ad­dress is­sues of hous­ing and home­less­ness.

Still, McK­in­ney al­lowed lawyers for 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 be­cause the al­ter­na­tive would be to send the women to live on the streets.

On Tues­day, Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, called the high-pro­file evic­tion a suc­cess be­cause au­thor­i­ties feared a po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence.

Of­fi­cers had to use the bat­ter­ing ram to get into the house be­cause the back

and front doors had been for­ti­fied, Kelly said. Two women and a man who were in­side were ar­rested af­ter they were given 5 min­utes to leave and did not, he said. A fourth per­son was ar­rested out­side the house.

“There was a tremen­dous amount of work that went into this and we had to think out­side the box a lit­tle bit,” Kelly said.

Of­fi­cers then boarded up the house with ply­wood and said it is up to Oak­land po­lice to ar­rest any­one caught tres­pass­ing. The house did not con­tain many be­long­ings, Kelly said, and Wedge­wood is re­spon­si­ble for re­turn­ing those be­long­ings.

Kelly said the depart­ment is con­sid­er­ing billing Wedge­wood for the “tens of thou­sands of dol­lars” as­so­ci­ated with en­forc­ing the evic­tion.

The peo­ple ar­rested will be booked on mis­de­meanor charges of re­sist­ing and ob­struc­tion, he said. No chil­dren were present dur­ing the 5:15 a.m. evic­tion.

Wedge­wood said the com­pany was pleased “the il­le­gal oc­cu­pa­tion of its Oak­land home has ended peace­fully.”

Moms 4 Hous­ing said af­ter the evic­tion that its ef­forts will con­tinue de­spite the ar­rests.

“We’ve built a move­ment of thou­sands of Oak­lan­ders who showed up at a mo­ments no­tice to re­ject po­lice vi­o­lence and ad­vo­cate for homes for fam­i­lies,” the group tweeted. “This isn’t over, and it won’t be over un­til ev­ery­one in the Oak­land com­mu­nity has a safe and dig­ni­fied place to live.”

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