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Homeless moms in Oakland face post-Christmas eviction

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Activists claim they have legal right to vacant home as court hearing looms

A woman stands with her two young children, all of them smiling. Photo by Nicholas Lea Bruno, courtesy of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment

Two homeless mothers who took over an empty West Oakland house are set to argue for their right to stay on Thursday, as the home’s owners move to oust the pair and their families while also trying to maneuver the court of public opinion.

The hearing, set for 9:00 a.m in a Hayward courtroom, comes after Redondo Beach-based Wedgewood Properties served Dominique Walker and Sameerah Karim (collectively “Moms 4 Housing”) with notice to leave the house at 2928 Magnolia Street that the pair and their respective children moved into of their own accord in November.

In an emailed statement, Wedgewood spokesperson Sam Singer calls the mothers’ move-in “a straightforward situation of illegal entry and illegal occupation.”

Per Singer, the company bought the house in July of this year for $501,078. Walker and Karim say the property has sat vacant for years while they’ve been unable to find housing in Oakland even when working full-time, but the company says, essentially, that’s nothing to do with them.

In a bid to win over some public opinion, Wedgewood even drafted former Super Bowl champ James Washington to ask the moms to leave voluntarily.

An email sent Monday signed by Washington claims that Washington’s Shelter 37—a non-profit that “seeks to improve the overall well-being of children and young adults whose lives have been affected or disrupted by crime, violence, or abandonment”—is going to renovate the home, and that Wedgewood will donate a portion of the eventual sale price to the organization.

Nobody at Moms 4 Housing was immediately available to comment, but via Twitter the group called the missive disingenuous and accused Wedgewood of manipulating Washington to try to remove them and allow the company to flip the house.

On Christmas Eve the pair held a press conference where Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan joined those backing their continued habitation.

The moms’ lawyer argues that the pair have a legal right to stay, citing among other things a 1977 international agreement recognizing housing as part of a basic human right to “an adequate standard of living.”

Under California law, squatters may have a right to a property, but first they have to be maintaining a home (but not necessarily living in it full-time) for at least five years.