Wedgewood: Wants to employ at-risk youth to renovate 'Moms 4 Housing' home

The owner of the West Oakland house that a group of homeless women took over last month now wants them out so the property can be put to a new use — helping at-risk local youth.

Officials from Wedgewood, the real estate company that owns the house on Magnolia Street, announced at a news conference on Monday that they want to use the vacant home to provide training and job opportunities to disadvantaged Oaklanders, as well as a purchase opportunity for a first-time homebuyer. 

But Sam Singer, a spokesman for Wedgewood, said that what’s standing in the way is the home’s occupation by a group of homeless mothers.

Wedgewood bought the house in July and wants to evict the mothers, and the company has enlisted the help of a nonprofit founded by James Washington, a former two-time NFL Super Bowl champion, to run interference. Washington is the founder of the Los-Angeles-based nonprofit Shelter 37. 
"In the United States, you can't take someone's property," Washington said.

He said that there is a project in the works to partner with Wedgewood to renovate the house by employing up to a dozen at-risk youth from Oakland. He urged the women to leave voluntarily.

 "If you set a precedent of giving a person a home, do you know how many people will be squatting?" he asked rhetorically. 

An attorney representing the mothers sees it in a different way.

"We have the worst housing crisis the United States has ever seen, worse than during the Great Depression," said Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Engagement. 

Their attorney said Oakland Community Land Trust offered to buy the home and rent it to the women. But Wedgewood has refused to talk with the group unless the women move out. 

The company has said once the renovation of the home is completed, it plans to sell the property to a first-time homeowner and split the profits 50-50 with Shelter 37. 

Simon-Weisberg is skeptical. 

"They want to essentially use a nonprofit to still make profit," said Simon-Weisberg.  

One neighbor says it's a tough call, that many people have been forced out of the area due to high housing costs.

"They're quiet neighbors. Haven't heard a peep out of them. But I get it.  It's owned by someone else," said Matt Lavoie who has owned a home nearby for 12 years.     

Hannah Hawler, another neighbor, added: "It's less about what's against the law and more about what's right.  I don't think it's right for moms and kids to be living on the streets.” 

The women plan to hold a news conference in front of the  home Christmas Eve morning. They also filed a claim of right to possession and a court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 30.