The saga of Moms 4 Housing — or at least its first chapter — appears to be coming to a close as a judge on Friday ordered that the women who have been occupying a vacant property in West Oakland must leave or be removed by the Sheriff. The decision is very likely to draw more protest and media attention.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney heard arguments from developer and property owner Wedgewood Properties last week, as well as Moms 4 Housing and its leader Dominique Walker. As KPIX reports, Judge McKinney issued a ruling saying that while he sympathized with Walker's cause and her push to hear from "expert witnesses concerning federal and international legal authorities regarding the right to housing," such testimony was "outside the scope of this proceeding."
Walker has been squatting in the single family home that Wedgewood owns at 2928 Magnolia Street since November 18 along with her two children, ages 1 and 5. She moved back to her native Oakland last year from Mississippi and claimed she was unable to find new housing in the increasingly expensive local market. Walker was later joined in the house, and in her efforts to fix up the inside, by other homeless working mothers Leena Graves, Jesse Turner, Angela Shannon, Sameerah Karim, and Denise Bambauer. Walker and the group have maintained that they were claiming their own human right to shelter, and staging a somewhat unique protest over the fact that this home had sat empty for many months.
Said Walker in an earlier interview, "Housing is a human right. I pay bills there. I pay water, PG&E, internet. We live there."
In late December, following the mothers' appeal of an eviction notice by Wedgewood and some well-publicized protest, Judge McKinney granted an appeal for the eviction, but that has now been denied.
Wedgewood has said, through its spokesperson Sam Singer, that it purchased the home in July 2019 and didn't gain possession of it until November 20 — two days after Walker moved in — due to some legal wrangling. The company has now pledged to partner with a Southern California non-profit, Shelter 37, to employ at-risk Oakland youth in the renovation of the home, and to share in the profits of the home's resale with the organization.
When asked how Wedgewood planned to secure the property in the interim, given all the attention and protest that this case has attracted, Singer said, "It will be secured, that is all I can say about the issue."
The Moms 4 Housing group now has five days to vacate the property before the Alameda County Sheriff steps in, and Wedgewood said in a statement, "Wedgewood takes no pleasure in having the sheriff enforce the court’s order to evict the squatters. We urge the squatters to leave voluntarily and peacefully."
Wedgewood also said that justice had been served and "The court’s ruling is the correct legal, moral, and ethical judgement against the squatters that broke in and illegally occupied the company’s house."
Moms 4 Housing made an appearance earlier this week at a press conference led by state Senator Scott Wiener in which he was announcing the reintroduction of his housing density-near-transit bill SB-50 — which critics have attacked for giving developers too much leeway to build luxury rentals and condos and flout local land-use restrictions. (The newer version of the bill will give cities greater control over zoning changes so long as they encourage density.) At the press conference, Berkeley-based state Senator Nancy Skinner voiced her support for the squatting mothers, saying, "I want to thank Moms 4 Housing for taking that house and for demonstrating that nowhere, nowhere should there be a vacant house anywhere in California when we have the housing crisis that we have. And it was totally legitimate for those homeless moms to take over that house."
Stay tuned for the next steps by the moms and their supporters. Below is a well-produced video the group posted to YouTube on Tuesday featuring Destiny, one of the children living in the house.