It's no news that Bay Area housing is grossly overinflated – and downright unaffordable, forcing many into homelessness. And, with a slew of vacant houses sprinkled throughout the region, there's no reason why those domiciles should go uninhabited. At least, that's what these East Bay moms believe.
Full-time workers and around-the-clock parents Dominique Walker and Sameerah Karim are on a mission to end – or, at the very least, mitigate – "housing-insecurity" in this slice of Northern California. Yesterday, Curbed SF reported that 31-year-old Walker and 41-year-old Karim moved into a vacant three-bedroom Oakland house earlier in the week, shedding light on the fact that there are (still) unoccupied housing units in a metro that boasts some of the highest rates of homelessness in the country.
“There are four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are homeless people,” Karim said at a press conference this week, via KTVU. "Why should anyone — especially children — sleep on the street while perfectly good homes sit empty?”
Earlier this year, the Chronicle reported that Oakland, actually, has a larger homelessness population than its sister city on the other side of the Bay Bridge, which rose 47 percent between 2017 and 2019; it was one of the biggest two-year increases reported by any California city. In fact, the Catamount Properties-owned home sits in the same neighborhood of the infamous West Wood encampment that was just freshly gutted and cleaned, displacing an estimated 100 (or more) homeless to make room for a city-sanctioned RV- and vehicle-parking area for car dwellers. It’s no stretch to say either that some of these inhabitants pushed-out were, in some way, affected by the 2007 mortgage crisis.
“This home was stolen from the black community in the subprime mortgage crisis, and it’s been sitting vacant for nearly two years," Walker said during that same aforementioned press conference, making a point that the Moms 4 Housing are done working through "the system" to find a means to an end: "But this system doesn’t work for people ... it only works for banks and corporations.”
Both Karim and Walker are the two founding maternal figures behind the Moms 4 Housing group, a cooperative of homeless and marginally housed mothers who decided to come together to repossess housing units for their community that "speculators and profiteers" have "stolen from them,” per their website. Their site also states that they believe "no one should be homeless when homes are sitting empty" and "housing is a human right."
As it sits right now, the median average income in Oakland is roughly $64,000, according to a US Census report, a figure pulled from their most recent 2017 totals. And the cost of a single-family home in Oakland? Well, Zillow has that price tag at $737,900 – or, more or less, the 12-year total income of the average Oaklandian.
Renting enough space for even a small family is bleak to boot, now that $3,200-plus two-bedroom rentals are now the norm in the East Bay city.
The Chronicle reported that Oakland is, however, building more affordable housing units. As of August of this year, 9,304 total units are still under construction in Oakland, with roughly 6,800 of those becoming available to in-need families and single occupants before the year ends.
While a step in the right direction, even beating SF in sheer planned affordable housing units, much still needs to be done in regards to housing-insecurity in the Bay Area. Most financial advisors agree that your housing costs should never top more than 30 percent of your total income. But, in Oakland, nearly half of all households are "house cost burden," according to a recent report by PolicyLink, meaning that they spend more than 30 percent – in some cases as much as 70 percent – of their total income on securing a safe place to sleep.
"We are mothers, we are workers, we are human beings, and we deserve housing," pen the moms on the organization's website. "We tried working through the system [...] we tried following the rules [...] we both work multiple jobs and we need a home for our children."
For more information on the moms and their vision for a future sans housing woes, visit moms4housing.org. Keep up to date with their progress and future protests, much like the one happening today, on the group’s Facebook page, as well.
Image: Courtesy of Twitter via @moms4housing