Nearly a year after Moms 4 Housing became a national sensation by squatting in an empty West Oakland home, the group on Friday announced another victory: That house will soon become the first of many that members hope to turn into housing for homeless mothers.
After months of negotiations with corporate owner Wedgewood, Oakland Community Land Trust bought the Magnolia Street house for $587,500. Now, Moms 4 Housing intends to turn it into a transitional home where mothers can stay while looking for jobs, getting their credit in order and finding permanent housing.
The home also will serve as a center for Moms 4 Housing’s next project. In partnership with the Alameda Labor Council and the Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, the group intends to train unhoused mothers in contracting work and then employ them to renovate other vacant homes to create additional affordable housing.
An emotional Dominique Walker, one of the founding Moms 4 Housing members, announced the deal Friday.
“This is officially Moms’ house,” she said, standing on the steps of the home as supporters cheered. “This moment is so special to me. Today is my son’s second birthday. He took his first steps in this house.”
But the other changes Moms 4 Housing and its supporters pushed for months ago have been slow to make a difference. In January, when Wedgewood agreed to start negotiations with the land trust on the house, Mayor Libby Schaaf announced another major Moms 4 Housing win: Going forward, any time Wedgewood wanted to sell a home in Oakland, the company must first offer the property to the city, the land trust or another affordable housing organization.
Since then, Wedgewood has offered its entire Oakland portfolio — more than 100 homes — to the Oakland Community Land Trust for purchase, according to a Wedgewood spokesman. So far, the land trust hasn’t bought any. But the organization is in talks with Wedgewood about several homes, said Steve King, executive director of the land trust.
Wedgewood declined to comment further.
Also in January, Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas announced her intent to push through the Moms 4 Housing Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, which would give tenants first dibs if their landlord moved to sell a property. But progress on that legislation quickly stalled.
“I have not yet introduced it because of COVID interrupting and the economic recession and so many other things sort of taking precedence in terms of what the city of Oakland is focused on,” Fortunato Bas said Friday. “But I am definitely committed to introducing it after the election.”
The Oakland Community Land Trust closed the deal on the Magnolia Street house in May. Wedgewood, which had promised not to ask for more than the home’s assessed value, had originally bought the house in a July 2019 foreclosure sale for $501,000. Today, Zillow estimates the home is worth $828,257 — but it needs extensive work to make it habitable. In August, the median sale price for a single-family home in Alameda County was $975,000, according to DQNews.
Since the deal closed, the land trust has been busy figuring out what work needs to be done on the home and raising money to pay for it, said King. The timeline, and the announcement of the sale, were pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic.
King said the land trust plans to start renovations, including work on the foundation and replacing the roof, within the next month. He expects the work will cost several hundred thousand dollars and take four to five months.
The money to buy and renovate the house came exclusively from donations — both from foundations and private individuals — and does not include city funds, King said.
Moms 4 Housing, a group of homeless mothers, mothers at risk of homelessness and activists, skyrocketed to national fame after taking over the empty, investor-owned house in November.
In an effort to raise awareness about homelessness and housing insecurity, and to pressure the city to repurpose other vacant homes owned by corporations, the group squatted illegally in the house for two months before being evicted by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Four people were arrested during the eviction process but were not charged.
Moms 4 Housing’s message resonated with people in Oakland and beyond desperate for action on the worsening homelessness crisis, and prominent figures from Schaaf to Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed their support. But not everyone agreed with the movement. Many argued that in occupying the home and breaking the law, the women had gone too far.
On Friday, Walker and Moms 4 Housing member Carroll Fife, who is running for the Oakland City Council District 3 seat, signed a symbolic deed on the front step signifying that the house is returning to the community. Since squatting in the Magnolia Street house with her children, Walker has found stable housing in Berkeley through another land trust.
“It is going to get cold again,” Walker said. “We have to come together and organize, especially now during COVID, to protect our neighbors and get them off the street by any means necessary.”