As It Happens

Homeless moms vow to keep fighting after being forcibly evicted from vacant Oakland house

Dominique Walker says she was forced out of the home where her son took his first steps so that a private company can profit off her city's housing crisis.

Moving into the house was 'an act of desperation,' says evicted woman Dominique Walker

Carroll Fife, regional director of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, left, holds back Moms 4 Housing founder Dominique Walker, who is distraught over the arrests of her fellow members and former housemates Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Oakland, Calif. (Marisa Kendall/Bay Area News Group/The Associated Press)

Dominique Walker says she was forced out of the home where her son took his first steps so a private company can profit from her city's housing crisis.

Walker is one of several homeless mothers who were evicted Tuesday from a vacant house on Magnolia Street in Oakland, Calif., which they'd been living since November. 

"My son took his first steps in the house on Magnolia Street. He said his first word in that house. My daughter celebrated her fifth birthday in that house," Walker told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I've seen my children develop just from having shelter. It is a basic need. It is a basic human right."

Police raid at 'Mom's House' 

Alameda County Sheriff's deputies showed up on Magnolia Street before dawn Tuesday and used a battering ram to break down the fortified door of the three-bedroom home the women and their supporters have affectionately dubbed "Mom's House."

The officers, some clad in military-style fatigues, were enforcing an eviction order issued Friday by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney.

Several of the women and their supporters were arrested, their hands bound with plastic ties, while dozens of activists outside recorded the scene with their phones and chanted "Let the moms go!"

Tolani King, second from left, and Misty Cross are led away by Alameda County Sheriff's deputies after being removed the house on Tuesday. (Marisa Kendall/ Bay Area News Group/The Associated Press)

Walker wasn't in the house when the police showed up, but she says she knew the moment was coming, especially after spotting police cruisers in the neighbourhood the previous evening.

"We sent out a mass text to our supporters. In a matter of 15 minutes, there were 300-plus people ready to defend Mom's House," she said. "I feel that this is the beginning of a movement for housing for all."

Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, said two women and a man inside were arrested after they refused to leave, and fourth person was arrested outside the house.

They will be booked on misdemeanour charges of resisting and obstruction, he said. No children were present during the 5:15 a.m. eviction.

Wedgewood Inc., the California real estate investment group that owns the house, said in a statement it was pleased "the illegal occupation of its Oakland home has ended peacefully."

'They have blood on their hands'

Walker says she struggled for months to find affordable housing in Oakland. During that time, she and her two children — a one-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl — bounced around between hotel rooms and relatives' houses.

Eventually, she says she connected with other mothers in the same predicament.

Fed up, the mothers formed the collective Moms 4 Housing and moved their families into the vacant home at 2928 Magnolia Street in West Oakland on Nov. 18.

"This was an act of desperation of mothers who had the courage to stand up for their children," Walker said. "And we've had enough."

In this Dec. 6, 2019 photo, Walker, 34, left, and 2018 Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks, right, and other activists react as supporters chant, 'Power to the moms" outside the Magnolia Street house. (Marissa Kendal/Bay Area News Group/The Associated Press)

It was partly a last-ditch effort to find housing, she said, and partly a protest against what the group says are predatory businesses that snap up distressed homes and leave them vacant in a city with a growing homelessness crisis. 

"They have no business being in our communities. They're profiting off of harm. They have blood on their hands," Walker said.

The group EveryOneHome recorded 4,000 homeless people in Oakland in a one-night count in July — a rise of 47 per cent over the last two years, the Mercury News reports. Federal officials say an uptick in the U.S. homeless population last year was driven entirely by a 16 per cent increase in California.

The average price to rent an Oakland apartment is $2,905 US, up seven per cent from last year, according to RentCafe. The median home price is $752,275 US, according to the real estate site Zillow. 

Wedgewood bought the Magnolia Street property at a foreclosure auction last year for just over $500,000 US. It was vacant for 2 ½ years before the moms moved in. 

"They profited off the foreclosure crisis," Walker said. "Their main objective is to either hold [the homes] until they can profit from them, or flip them for a price that folks from Oakland can't afford."

Before they were evicted from the house, Walker says she and the other moms tried to buy the home, with help from a local land trust, offering the same price Wedgewood paid for it.

"They refused to sell the house to us," Walker said. "This house means nothing to them. They have a catalogue of properties that they own."

Wedgewood said it plans to work with the non-profit group Shelter 37 to renovate the property with help from at-risk youth and will split profits from the home's sale with Shelter 37.

'It was never about this one house'

The women of Moms 4 Housing, meanwhile, say the fight is far from over. 

"It was never about this one house. It's about all unhoused folks," Walker said.

"This is not only a Moms 4 Housing issue or an Oakland issue. This is a human rights issue. This is the new civil rights movement."

Signs are posted outside the home dubbed 'Mom's House.' (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

The group is not alone in their methods.

Needa Bee, a homeless mother who works with The Village in Oakland group to shelter homeless people, told The Associated Press her organization has identified nine unoccupied homes over the last year for 40 homeless people.

Some are homes owned by banks and investment firms, she said. Others are homes owned by people having trouble paying property taxes, who welcomed the homeless as tenants in exchange for the group's help paying taxes or making repairs.

As for Walker, she says she and the other families from Magnolia Street will be OK.

"Our community has our backs. Folks have offered us places to stay," she said. "That's what this movement is about."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Dominique Walker produced by Morgan Passi.