Moms 4 Housing in Oakland Vow to Fight Potential Eviction

Members of the group Moms 4 Housing — Sharena Thomas, left, Carroll Fife, center, Dominique Walker, second from right, and Tolani KIng, right — outside a formerly vacant house on Magnolia Street in West Oakland, which they've occupied since November, despite an eviction order. (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

Supporters for two mothers who moved into a vacant house in West Oakland without permission say they plan to protest any effort to evict them as they wait for a judge to decide whether they can stay or must go.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney heard the arguments of the newly formed group called Moms 4 Housing early Monday, with about 100 of their supporters turning up at the Hayward Hall of Justice. McKinney is expected to issue a ruling later this week.

McKinney issued a tentative ruling last week in favor of Wedgewood, the Redondo-Beach based real estate investment group that owns the property. But the mothers remain hopeful since the judge did not immediately reject their claim.

“We consider that a win for right now,” Dominique Walker told reporters outside the courthouse.

Walker, 34, and Sameerah Karim, 41, began occupying the three-bedroom home on Magnolia Street in November to avoid living on the streets. The mothers said the house had been vacant for two years, and they were acting partly in protest against speculators buying up property in the Bay Area and leaving them empty amid a growing homelessness crisis.

Attorneys for the women argue that housing is a human right. In a brief filed with the court, attorneys Leah Simon-Weisberg and Micah Clatterbaugh said the home in West Oakland was located in a community severely impacted by the housing crisis and if evicted, the mothers would “face the dangerous and untenable conditions of homelessness.”

Oakland City Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas speaks in support of the group Moms 4 Housing outside the Hayward Hall of Justice. (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

But at Monday's hearing, the judge remained skeptical that the courts were the right way to resolve there conflict.

"There’s no doubt these are extremely important issues, but I think it’s finding the right venue and the right case for that," he said. "I’m not convinced that this is the case, but I’ll certainly consider all the arguments presented."

Simon-Weisberg said there is legal precedent that housing is a human right under international law — an argument the courts should recognize.

"The need has arisen to such a point that the courts must, are able and have the authority to intervene," she said.

Attorneys for Wedgewood disagreed, calling the mothers trespassers.

"The claim must be denied," said attorney Francisco Gutierrez. "Trespassers do not have the right to possession of the property."

After Monday's hearing, about 125 people met outside the West Oakland home on Magnolia Street. Many linked arms, forming lines with their bodies around the house, as people stood up on the porch to speak.

"If I'm sleeping in the streets with my children and you refuse to give me housing, your expectation is that I continue to lay there in the streets with my child and die? No!" said Cat Brooks, an Oakland activist who unsuccessfully ran for mayor last year.

Carroll Fife, director of the group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, became emotional as she described how living in the home has already changed the lives of the mothers and their children: Sunday night, the kids put clean sheets on their beds and started decorating the room. The week before, a Christmas tree stood in the living room.

Fife said the support for these mothers needs to continue and include others in the community who are grappling with the region's housing affordability crisis.

"We need students for housing, we need teachers for housing, we need janitors for housing," said Fife. "We need everybody for housing, because it is a human right that you need to survive."

Among the group's supporters was Oakland City Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas.

“What you are doing is incredibly brave,” Bas told the women after the hearing.

Bas, fellow Councilmember Dan Kalb and Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan have urged Wedgewood to negotiate a sale of the home to the nonprofit Oakland Community Land Trust, which has previously worked with the city to buy vacant properties to sell to low-income families.

“When this judge looks at this conflict between the right to adequate housing, and the right for speculators to profit — I want to be on the side of these moms,” Bas said.

Wedgewood rejected the offer and said it won’t work out a deal until the mothers vacate the property. In a response letter to the Oakland officials, Wedgewood spokesperson Sam Singer said the company is “deeply concerned that you are encouraging criminal activity, in this instance the theft of people’s property.”

If Judge McKinney rules against the mothers, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said they will carry out the eviction likely after Jan. 1. Spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said officers are prepared to make arrests if they are met with resistance by the mothers or their supporters.

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