The Expanded Moms 4 Housing Bill Could Change the Whole Game
A movement that started with two mothers making a stand for their rights to be housed in an increasingly untenable market is growing into something with potential to positively impact countless Oakland residents.
In a press release issued Tuesday, the group announced that a bill drafted in their name, the Moms 4 Housing Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, was being expanded. The proposal originally aimed to give current tenants the first right of refusal when their homes were sold. But Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, who’s stood with the moms up over the past several months, introduced a new element to the legislation during a City Council Committee meeting.
The bill now, if passed, would extend the ordinance to include vacant single and multi-unit homes owned by corporate speculators, giving first purchase rights to land trusts, co-ops and affordable housing developers. With the proposed changes comes additional support from Council President Rebecca Kaplan, Councilmember Sheng Thao and Mayor Libby Schaaf, who are all now signing on as bill co-sponsors.
The market power shift that would result under this bill would be a game changer for locals. The city has become more prosperous with a soaring large business sector, as seen in Uptown, but long-time residents and regular wage earners are more and more being left behind at best and displaced at worst as the housing market rises to accommodate wealthy newcomers.
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The moms in their quest for a fair shake became symbolic of all that is wrong with gentrifying neighborhoods. Both working women had exhausted legal resources in an effort to find a safe and affordable roof to keep over their childrens’ heads in the city they call home. Homeless and frustrated by a broken system rigged for outsiders, they took matters into their own hands and took over a vacant Magnolia Street property owned by a Redondo Beach-based corporate real estate development firm. The action was about far more than two people illegally inhabiting one property.
Making no secret of their protest, they encountered an avalanche of support from the public and some elected officials. They unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a sale of the home from Wedgewood, Inc. (a.k.a. Wedgewood Properties), the company that owns the Magnolia Street home and nearly 130 other “distressed” properties around the Bay Area. The company buys and flips homes under several different shell LLCs, making it tough to gauge their holdings.
In a dramatic turn of events, the unarmed mothers and supporters were evicted, and some arrested under the cover of dark skies with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office using extreme paramilitary-like measures. That intense scene unfolded on Jan. 16. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, just four days later, news broke that the city and Wedgewood had reached a tentative agreement for the home to be sold to the Oakland Community Land Trust, which would retain the property as affordable housing and allow the mothers to return after necessary renovations were complete.
It was seen as a huge victory, but it would be just the beginning. The namesake bill that followed is aimed at helping the entire community and the recent expansion of the proposed ordinance would go further than anyone could have expected months ago.
The Moms 4 Housing group said in a press release:
“Moms for Housing is supporting this bill because it will help families like ours remain in their homes, and in the Oakland community. If this bill had been in place last year, Wedgewood might never have been able to buy Moms House in the first place. They would have had to offer the right of first refusal to a community land trust, allowing a non-profit to purchase the house and keep it affordable. With the new addition of vacant homes, this bill has the potential to help thousands of Oaklanders not only to stay in our community, but also to build a stable and secure future here through a pathway to home ownership. Thank you to Councilmember Fortunato Bas for her advocacy to make housing a human right for everyone in Oakland.”
The bill will be heard at a March 24 Oakland City Council meeting.