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Homeless moms take over vacant West Oakland home

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“This home was stolen from the black community in the subprime mortgage crisis, and it’s been sitting vacant for nearly two years”

A woman stands with her two young children, all of them smiling.
Dominque Walker, cofounder of Moms For Housing, and her family.
Photo by Nicholas Lea Bruno, courtesy of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment

In Oakland, a collective group dubbed Moms For Housing demand that fallow and deserted homes be turned over to shelter homeless and housing-insecure people. And they mean business—the group’s founders moved into a vacant three-bedroom Oakland house this week.

Moms For Housing organizers call the group “a collective of homeless and marginally housed mothers [...] with the ultimate goal of reclaiming housing for the community from speculators and profiteers.”

The principals, Dominique Walker, 34, and Sameerah Karim, 41, are Oakland locals who both say they work more than full time but still cannot find an affordable place to live.

“Why should anyone—especially children—sleep on the street while perfectly good homes sit empty?” Karim said at a press conference this week.

Walker told Bay Area News Group, “This home was stolen from the black community in the subprime mortgage crisis, and it’s been sitting vacant for nearly two years.”

This Saturday, community organizers will stage a march and rally in Oakland in support of the families, demanding that more empty homes be repurposed to house people.

Emmy Award-winning comedian W. Kamau Bell tweeted his support for the group and this weekend’s rally, saying, “We’ve been led to believe that there’s a housing crisis in Oakland. But there are 4 vacant units for every homeless person. This isn’t a housing crisis. It’s a crisis of greed.”

Moms For Housing alleges that investment and real estate interests have driven up housing prices in the East Bay to enrich a few.

“We tried following the rules,” they say, “but this system doesn’t work for people, it only works for banks and corporations.”

According to the U.S. Census, the median rent in Oakland in 2018 was $1,498, up from $1,255 just a year prior.

However, the market-rate rent for Oakland is considerably higher. On Zumper, a one-bedroom Oakland apartment averaged $2,500 per month in October, the fourth-highest rate in the nation.

The California Association of Realtors reports that in October, a single-family home in Alameda County cost an average of $925,000—up from $900,000 one year prior.

Meanwhile, Oakland’s median household income sits at $63,251 per year.

Although Oakland is building housing, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Oakland has more units in the pipeline than SF—demand for affordable housing is so great that earlier this year 4,000 people applied for just 28 new units.

Wedgewood, the Southern California real estate investment company that owns the house where the Moms For Housing women currently call home, has not returned requests for comment.

According to a 2016 article in Huffington Post, Wedgewood CEO Greg Geiser said that his firm is the biggest “fix and flip” company in the country. Wedgewood reportedly buys about a couple hundred foreclosed or soon-to-be homes each month.

Speaking at a real estate conference last September, Geiser told the audience that the “distressed market” is “hot and sexy” and “new and trendy.”