Jocelyn Foreman poses with a Community Land Trust agreement during a signing ceremony and celebration at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley on April 23, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
An East Bay woman who was facing eviction got a reprieve this week after a community land trust was able to purchase the home she was renting.
The mother of five and grandmother of three made history as an early test case of a new California law designed to get more homes out of the hands of corporations and into the hands of homeowners. Now her new home will remain permanently affordable.
Senate Bill 1079 — signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year — allows tenants of foreclosed homes, nonprofits and local governments an exclusive 45-day window to match the winning bid at auction.
Jocelyn Foreman had never expected to become a homeowner. The Berkeley native and her five children had been homeless for the better part of the past 20 years, couch surfing with relatives. She said she felt stuck in a cycle of poverty.
But all of that changed in the fall of 2018, when she found an affordable home to rent in Pinole.
"This house was so important to me," she said Friday. "It was my opportunity to break the cycle, for myself and for my children."
But that house went into foreclosure last year after her landlord had trouble paying the mortgage. The foreclosure was delayed due to the pandemic, so the house didn't go to auction until March of this year.
The winning bid was for $600,000. It had been made by Wedgewood Inc., a Southern California-based real estate flipper that specializes in flipping distressed homes.
The company drew national scrutiny in late 2019 when a group of Black, homeless mothers occupied a vacant house in West Oakland that Wedgewood had purchased at a foreclosure auction. The occupiers, who called themselves Moms 4 Housing, sought to spotlight increasing corporate ownership of housing, which they said had led to rising rents and growing homelessness.
A KQED investigation found that despite the controversy, a global pandemic and mass unemployment, Wedgewood continued to buy homes across California — scooping up at least 276 properties through a network of shell companies between the start of the pandemic in mid-March 2020 and March of this year. All but 15 of those properties were single-family homes, like the three-bedroom home Foreman was renting in Pinole.
In an email to KQED, Wedgewood CEO Greg Geiser said he didn't know much about Foreman's house.
"All we know is we bought a house, and it is occupied," he wrote.
Asked whether the company planned to evict Foreman or keep her on as a tenant, Geiser said in an interview with KQED they would do their best to work with her.
"It sounds like this woman is in a special situation, and we will deal with her," he said. "We will come to a resolution with this."
But Foreman doesn't have to worry now about what that resolution would entail, or about being forced to leave the house. SB 1079 gave Foreman a fighting chance to buy the house herself — but not without help.
After finding out about the foreclosure, she reached out to the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a nonprofit legal aid organization that helped put her in touch with the Northern California Land Trust.
When Foreman came to the trust for help purchasing the home, it seemed like a long shot, said Francis McIlveen, director of real estate for the land trust.
"We're a nonprofit. We don't have cash," he said. "We had three weeks to get $600,000."
But Foreman's community of supporters — including many parents and teachers from the Berkeley Unified School District, where Foreman works — came through. More than 900 donors contributed roughly $176,000 to her campaign, which helped enable the land trust to secure the financing it needed to purchase the home.
Under the terms of the deal, the land trust will maintain ownership of the property until Foreman can qualify for a traditional mortgage. At that time, she'll have the opportunity to purchase the home. The land underneath the house will remain with the trust, so that if Foreman ever moves out or decides to sell, it will be sold at an affordable price to the next buyer.
McIlveen said a deal like this would not normally have been possible.
"This was a unicorn of a case," McIlveen said, "because of who she is, because of the network of people around her, because of how much support she has in this community."
To ensure SB 1079 is truly effective, McIlveen said it needs to come with funding so more would-be homeowners could benefit from the law. The trust, along with other land trusts across the state, is lobbying for $103.5 million in this year's budget to help finance purchases like Foreman's house in Pinole.
But for Foreman, her days of couch surfing with relatives are over.