A collective of homeless Black moms and their children occupied a vacant house on Oakland, California’s Magnolia Street on November 18th, detailing their journey on Twitter. The occupied house is owned by Wedgewood Properties, which has flipped 160 homes in Oakland in the last nine years. Flipping houses is when speculators buy cheap land to refurbish and sell at a higher rate, and it is a main form of gentrification.
Wedgewood issued an eviction notice, with the excuse that the property would be used as a place of employment for at-risk youth to renovate the homes, through the LA-based non-profit Shelter 37. However, Greg Geiser, the CEO of Wedgewood Properties, is on the nonprofit’s board, showing how Shelter 37 is merely a pawn in Wedgewood’s plans to continue to gentrify Oakland.
In response to Wedgewood’s eviction notice, one of the moms said in a press conference on January 13th, “In the city of Oakland, where the average 1-bedroom apartment is $2500 per month, the housing wage in Oakland is $40.88 per hour. That means there is no housing available to working people in this city.”
That night, hundreds gathered on Magnolia Street in protest of the eviction. The next morning, 58 days into their occupation, Alameda County militarized police came, broke down the door, and arrested Tolani and Misty, two of the moms and leaders of this movement. Two supporters were also arrested. They were detained at Santa Rita jail.
“They came in like an army, for mothers and babies,” says moms4housing’s Dominique Walker in a press conference later that morning.
However, on January 15th, Wedgewood evicted the moms and children by hiring people to throw the moms’ belongings into the wet street, behind a newly put up chain-link fence. The moms had to convince workers to do a home walkthrough in order to retrieve all of their belongings.
Despite this set-back, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day, moms4housing reached an agreement with the Oakland Community Land Trust to purchase the house from Wedgewood. The negotiations to buy the house are currently underway.
While the moms were ultimately successful in buying the house, the journey to this point was filled with traumatic police brutality and forced displacement. The moms4housing case reiterates the truth that police protect private property and monied interests over the humanity and well-being of poor folks, especially Black and houseless communities.
In the context of UCLA, food and housing insecurity is not properly addressed while UCPD received $17 million per year from 2012-16. Similar to the moms4housing interactions with police, the UCPD’s long history of abuse shows that the police do not serve the most vulnerable Black, disabled, trans, and poor members of the campus community.
The moms4housing case also outlines issues within the nonprofit industry. Shelter 37 is just one example of nonprofits using a facade of community empowerment to terrorize the communities they claim to serve.
In LA, Mayor Garcetti’s NGO Mayor Fund is largely funded by developers in order for politicians to fund their election campaigns, while developers use these immense donations to obtain the mayor’s approval for their gentrifying development projects.
From Shelter 37 to the Mayor Fund, nonprofits not only harm communities but are often tax shelters for the wealthy. 501(c)(3) organizations, which are a type of non-profit, are tax exempt, so through donations, wealthy donors can legally forgo paying their taxes.
The issues that the moms fight against in Oakland are very similar to the issues here in LA, and all across the US, and even internationally, as NGOs have a history of using “leadership development” to de-radicalize movements abroad. Meanwhile, militarized police are used to terrorize people from Palestine to Hong Kong.
The moms won this step of the fight, but Dominique Walker said, “This movement does not end today with us or with that house. We will not stop fighting until everyone has a home.”
As organizing continues, we must continue to support the mom’s efforts. The moms know the fight goes beyond Oakland, California, and the US. Globally, the housing crisis is tied to gentrification, police brutality, and the non-profit industrial complex. We must stand with the moms until everyone has fulfilled our right to a safe, abundant environment.