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Homeless moms claim a victory in Oakland house battle

Homeless mothers fight for West Oakland house
Homeless mothers fight for West Oakland house... 01:28

A group of homeless mothers in Oakland, California, claimed a small victory in what they're calling a larger push to increase affordable housing in the Bay Area.

City officials in Oakland announced Monday that a local land bank will buy the vacant home on Magnolia Street that Moms 4 Housing had illegally occupied since November until their court-ordered eviction last week. The sales price hasn't been determined but city officials said in a statement the figure is "a price not to exceed the appraised value."

Real estate firm Wedgewood bought the home July 31 for $501,078 in a foreclosure auction. Its pending sale to the Oakland Community Land Trust doesn't mean the mothers take ownership, but the leader of Moms 4 Housing called it a step in the right direction.

"This is what happens when we organize, when people come together to build the beloved community," Dominique Walker said.

Sam Singer, Wedgewood's spokesman, said Monday that "some people can claim credit or claim victory, but the real victory goes to the community." 

Aside from selling 2928 Magnolia St. to the land trust, Wedgewood also agreed to give the land trust first dibs on buying any current or future Oakland properties the company buys. A contract spelling out the rights to first refusal is still under development, the city said. 

"This is a huge step for the moms," said Carroll Fife, a director at the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment who has been legally representing the moms. "The moms fought for all of Oakland."

Singer said Wedgewood, which currently owns about 100 homes in the city, will become a pipeline to new properties for the land trust to sell. 

Moms 4 Housing moved into the empty house two days before Wedgewood officially became the owner. The company then fought in court to have the women evicted as their case drew more and more community and media attention.

Earlier this month, an Alameda County judge ruled the mothers had "no valid claim of possession to" the home, which led sheriff's deputies to forcibly remove some of the women. Two were arrested then later released

Wedgewood's original plan was to have the women removed, renovate the home, then sell it to a first-time homebuyer. However, the day after the eviction, Wedgewood CEO Greg Geiser received phone calls from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and California Governor Gavin Newsom. During the calls, Geiser "expressed his belief that there's a serious homeless problem and that he wants Wedgewood to be part of the solution," Singer said.

Homeless mothers ordered to leave residence 02:58

Schaaf said Monday that Wedgewood's agreement could impact Oakland's home ownership rate. 

"Wedgewood has made an historic agreement to change the way they do business in Oakland," she said during a press conference. "This means we have the opportunity to – for fair market value – take these homes off of the speculative market and put them into permanent ownership." 

Schaad said she doesn't condone the squatting acts the moms used, but she "can respect them and I can passionately advance the cause that inspired them."  

That cause, to be clear, is California's rise in homelessness and skyrocketing housing costs.

The median home price in Oakland was $654,000 in January 2017, but by last fall that had surged to $758,000, according to Zillow data. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment as of November was just over $2,500. Meanwhile, Oakland's homeless population grew from 2,761 in 2017 to 4,071 in 2019.

The mothers said they took over the home after they couldn't find affordable housing in the area. The mothers said they have been paying the monthly utility bills at the home and ultimately want to purchase the house.  

Singer from Wedgewood said the mothers' heart was in the right place and the company is now glad to have forged a compromise. 

"When the women first took over the house, the CEO agreed that what they're saying was correct," he said. "We just felt the methodology was wrong." 

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