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If You’re Against Moms 4 Housing You’re on the Wrong Side of History

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By Sunny Dell

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday chose to carry out the eviction of mothers with a presence as though they were ready to invade a small country. There was a violence to the moment disproportionate to the purpose. 

Spokesperson Ray Kelly publicly claimed in post-operation press conference that the response wasn’t “militarized” because, hey, they’re not the military. But the roll-in of a tank-like “ballistic vehicle” accompanied by soldier-esque officers decked out in camo with assault rifles didn’t exactly give off the local law “protect and serve” vibe. 

They showed up at 5:15 a.m. under the cover of still dark skies and used a battering ram to bust through the doors mothers and supporters had barricaded in anticipation of what a judge put in play Friday when he ruled against Dominique Walker, and the Moms 4 Housing collective by extension, in a claim to right of possession. Although Walker was not there at the time of the eviction, two other mothers and at least one supporter were arrested and released from Santa Rita Jail later in the day.

They were given five days to vacate. They refused. They stuck to the negotiation route instead, hoping the property owner, Wedgewood Inc., would come to the table and sell the home the Oakland Community Land Trust that would ensure it remained affordable housing the mothers could continue to live in.

The company not only declined to negotiate a sale, but they chose a self-righteous path, citing biblical “thou shalt not steal” verse. I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t have been too keen on some rich, callous assholes putting hardworking mothers and their children out on the street, and using his name to do so.

Moms 4 Housing never threatened violence, but they were clear they would resist until the bitter end with peaceful resistance. They themselves moved the children from the house in days leading up to the eviction, just to be on the safe side.

Hundreds of people showed up Monday night to support them and to share their own stories of housing nightmares. The sheriff’s office claimed that among the supporters who lined the Magnolia Street sidewalk were people who had previously been involved in violent protests throughout the Bay Area, necessitating the need for the aggressive and highly armed approach.

Imagine trying to do everything as right as you possibly can and watching the cards stack up around you like a cage. Imagine working multiple jobs and not making enough to earn a key to any front door in the home you know. Imagine your children looking to you for safety and security and imagine crying yourself to sleep at night because you can’t give them the everything they need. Imagine playing by all the rules and being told that there’s just no room in the game for you anymore.

When Dominique Walker and Sameerah Karim “broke into” a vacant house on Magnolia Street, they were breaking out of the fear and desperation a homeless, working mother fears every single damn day. They were breaking down walls that a rigged system has built up to prevent them from living a decent life, walls that put that safety and security their children need just out of reach. 

They were tired of walking the line and getting nowhere, and they were frustrated seeing house after house sit empty as they struggled to find beds for the night. They’d had enough, for themselves, for their children and for the countless other working homeless and nearly homeless rent-burdened locals who are being pushed aside and pushed out of cities they call home.

So, yes, they broke in and took over a house they didn’t own. On Nov. 18, they took matters into their own hands, as any mom would damn well do in their position, and gave their babies somewhere safe to sleep that night.

But unlike the “squatters” they’re being called, they didn’t quietly sneak in and attempt to stay under the radar — they took the opportunity to make a lot of fucking noise, to the public and the press and anyone else who would listen. They used the moment to scream out loud, not just for themselves but for all of us who are barely hanging by a thread. They brought attention to what’s become an untenable situation and they invited a collective of women to join them as Moms 4 Housing

And then that collective became a movement.

The house at 2928 Magnolia Street in West Oakland had been vacant for 18 months. Eighteen fucking months, as homeless moms and kids were trying to stay warm out on the streets. The home was purchased in foreclosure just days before the two moms made the choice to occupy it. It was bought by a real estate investment firm with headquarters in Redondo Beach, with the eventual intention of flipping it for substantial profit.

Here’s the reality of the speculator/investor scheme: It screws everyone who doesn’t already own a home. It’s a fallacy that the Bay Area housing crisis sprung up out of some shortage of units. There was room for us locals before and there’s still room for us now — but now you need to practically be a member of the million dollar club just to keep a roof over your head in your own damn neighborhood. If you’re a person of color, that inequity is ridiculously exacerbated.

Thoughtless keyboard idiots suggest we just move to another state if we can’t afford to stay. But what they’re not considering is the isolation and lack of family and friends that comes with a move like that, and honestly, why the hell should we have to leave the places we’re from just to accommodate a bunch of greedy fucks who only see “opportunities” where we see neighborhoods.

Moms fighting for housing as a human right. Photo courtesy of Moms 4 Housing/Facebook.

Let’s break this down. These investors have a shit ton of cash on hand to win the bidding wars when “distressed” homes hit the market. Normal people, local people, have hopes of buying of those spots at a reasonable price and fixing them up, building their own equity as they make it a home they’re proud of. Seldom do normal people get that chance when the speculators come through dangling all-cash deals over the asking price. They swoop in like vultures without a shred of care for the communities they’re “investing” in. After they’re done renovating the houses, they spit them back out with a For Sale sign at an asking price well over what most average working people can possibly afford. 

That drives up the whole real estate market, which drives up the rental market, which drives up displacement and homelessness rates. It’s a pretty simple and devastating formula.

Gentrification isn’t just the hipsters setting up slow-drip coffee shops where old school barbershops used to be. It doesn’t start with the hipsters and the techies, it starts with the real estate vultures who see housing as a commodity and who give zero fucks about the people’s lives they’re ruining, the communities they’re dismantling as they stuff their fat pockets with profit and move onto the next, and the next, and the next.

Back to what happened Tuesday…

That action, with the ballistic vehicle, riot gear, multiple agencies and excessive weaponry cost the agency “10s of thousands of dollars,” according to Kelly.

Let’s assume that total is on the low end at $20,000. A quick Craigslist scan shows that a two-bedroom house in West Oakland runs about $2,600 per month in rent. That $20,000 could’ve housed, in an actual house, at least one homeless family for nearly eight months.

It looks as though Wedgewood is going to get a bill from the sheriff’s office to recoup cost — they’ll most certainly be coughing up more than they offered to throw toward Catholic Charities to “shelter” the moms and kids for two months in overcrowded homeless shelters.

These brave women took on an unjust system in a bold claim for their own survival and for the survival of us all — they’re fighting for the soul and the people of the city of Oakland and other Bay Area cities where locals are being pushed to the edge of extinction.

It’s going to take bravery and bold legislative action on the parts of the city, county and state governments to enact substantial change. We need a moratorium at least and a ban at best on the speculators and corporate real estate investors that are capitalizing on our miseries, who are soaking in riches as they push more working people into poverty and desperation.

Our elected representatives need to pull together just a shred of the courage these mothers have shown to protect us, and if they don’t, it’s time for them to go. This movement is not merely a flash. The problem is growing and, in many far too literal ways, it’s a matter of life and death.

As we’ve just seen, if the law doesn’t act to protect actual citizens over corporations, people will start taking action into their own hands. You’d better figure out real quick which side of this fight you’re on — you either stand with the moms, or you’re standing in the way.

 

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