"Moms 4 Housing" group to buy Oakland home they illegally occupied

After an acrimonious public battle over a small home in West Oakland that was illegally occupied by four homeless mothers, the group known as Moms 4 Housing on Monday announced an agreement with Wedgewood to buy the Magnolia Street property.

“This is what happens when we organize, when people come together to build the beloved community,” said Dominique Walker, the lead mother of the group who began squatting in the home on Nov. 18. “Today we honor Dr. King’s radical legacy by taking Oakland back from banks and corporations.”

At a news conference in front of City Hall, Walker said she was proud to have been behind what is now a movement.

"People power showed Wedgewood and our mayor that housing is a human right," Walker said --  a taste of bitterness still apparent from what she described as a traumatizing battle with powerful leaders, investors and naysayers. "We will not stop organazing until all unhoused folks have shelter." 

Sam Singer, a spokesman for Wedgewood, confirmed that the sale is taking place. The price of the home has not yet been negotiated. But Singer said the home was purchased by Wedgewood for $501,078 on July 31, 2019. The sale price won't exceed the appraised price, the parties said, and the agreement is with the Oakland Community Land Trust, a nonprofit partially funded by the city. 

And by all accounts, the deal isn't done, rather the negotiations have been verbal and in good faith. 

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The mothers also announced that this agreement is also a part of a larger housing equity movement organized  to take homes off the speculative market and make them permanently affordable and in community control through organizations such as the Oakland Community Land Trust, said Carroll Fife, Director of Oakland Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. 

“The moms fought for all of Oakland," Fife said.

The case has highlighted the growing tensions around the Bay Area's housing crisis, including in Oakland, which had a 47 percent increase in two years. And while eviction rates are lower in the Bay Area than the rest of the country, the ramifications are worse, because the housing supply is both more expensive and lacking here, housing advocates say.  

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Four mothers, led by Walker, moved into the small home on Nov. 18. They held public campaigns about their illegal move-in, not shying away from the fact that they were not paying to live there, but they felt it wasn't right that this home and others sit vacant when so many people in Oakland need shelter. 

Their takeover caused an international stir and legal battles. 

On Jan. 10, a judge ruled that the mothers had no "valid claim" to the property and must be evicted within five days. On Jan. 14, they were forcibly removed by Alameda County sheriff's deputies, who were armed with AR15s and used battering rams on the door, which the women had "fortified," officials said. Deputies arrested two of mothers who did not leave the home willingly and two other men inside the house. 

Wedgewood waged a PR campaign of its own, saying that the company would hire at-risk young people to renovate the house, sell it to a first-time homebuyer and even pay to relocate the women - an offer that the mothers called "an insult." 

After the high-profile eviction, Singer said that Wedgewood "engaged in discussions" with Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Councilman Larry Reid, which "led to progress that everyone should agree is a step in the right direction in helping to address Oakland’s homelessness and housing crisis."

Moms 4 Housing took over a Magnolia Street home in Oakland on Nov. 18.

Wedgewood's latest comments are an about-face to what the company stated last week. 

Sheriff's deputies evict homeless mothers

In an earlier email to KTVU, Singer said that even if the "squatters" had offered to buy the property, "Wedgewood it’s purchase price. Even if they had done so Wedgewood would not accept an offer from squatters that broke into its home illegally." 

But on Monday, Singer was much more conciliatory. 

He said he was happy that there is now a "detente" between the two sides. Wedgewood never wished the women ill, he said, but "we just didn't think taking over our property was right. We just didn't condone what they did." 

Now, that a deal is going to be hammered out, Singer added: "We think this is a very good solution." 

At this point, Wedgewood is promising to work with the city of Oakland’s Housing and Community Development Department and the Oakland Community Land Trust to negotiate a first right of refusal program for all the Oakland properties they own.

And, Fife added that her organization is now part of an ongoing discussion with Assemblymember Rob Bonta and Newsom about asserting the legal right to housing through state legislation. 

FILE ART - The mothers who took over the Magnolia Street home in Oakland now have a deal to buy it.

FILE ART - The mothers who took over the Magnolia Street home in Oakland now have a deal to buy it.

FILE ART - The mothers who took over the Magnolia Street home in Oakland now have a deal to buy it.

A mother is upset that her belongings got ruined after she and others were evicted from the Magnolia Street home.

FILE ART - Two women cry after mothers were evicted from a Magnolia Street in Oakland.

Two mothers and possibly one man were arrested at the Moms 4 Housing removal. Jan. 14, 2019

A woman is escorted away from the Magnolia Street porch poised to evict homeless moms. Jan. 14, 2020

A sign in front of the Magnolia Street home in Oakland.