OAKLAND (KRON) – Four people were arrested Tuesday morning as Alameda County sheriff’s deputies evicted a group that had been squatting inside a West Oakland home to protest a severe housing shortage and the growing number of homeless people.
Officials said two mothers and two men were arrested in the pre-dawn raid that showed sheriff’s deputies, some dressed in military-style fatigues, escorting women from the home and binding their hands with plastic ties as dozens of community activists on the sidewalk chanted “Let the moms go! Let the moms go!” and recorded the chaotic scene with their cell phones.
All four people were released from jail Tuesday afternoon aftering posting bail.
“They came in like an Army for mothers and babies,” Dominique Walker, the organizer for Moms 4 Housing, told reporters. “We have the right to housing. This is just the beginning.”
Moms 4 Housing had moved into the three-bedroom home partly to protest the methods of speculators who they have claimed snap up distressed homes and leave them empty despite California’s severe housing shortage and growing number of homeless people.
They also wanted to highlight the plight of African Americans in the U.S. who were historically shut out of owning property and forced into substandard neighborhoods that are now popular with wealthier, and often whiter, residents.
African Americans are about a quarter of Oakland’s population, but made up 70% of homeless counted.
Following Tuesday morning’s eviction, Moms 4 Housing released the following statement:
“We’ve heard from people all over the world who are inspired by our nonviolent civil disobedience. People who say that our action has shifted their perspective and helped them understand that housing is a human right. We’ve built a movement of thousands of Oaklanders who showed up at a moments notice to reject police violence and advocate for homes for families. This isn’t over, and it won’t be over until everyone in the Oakland community has a safe and dignified place to live.”Dominique Walker, Moms 4 Housing
The Magnolia Street home is owned by real estate investment firm Wedgewood Properties, which has already offered the group to pay Catholic Charities to shelter the moms for the next two months.
However, the moms say it won’t solve the problem and refused the offer.
As of last Friday, the judge’s order had originally given the moms and children 5 days to leave the property.
The mothers had been squatting in the home since November of last year.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney ruled last Friday the women did not have the right to stay and had to leave within five days. McKinney had previously issued a tentative ruling in favor of Wedgewood Inc., the real estate investment group that bought the Oakland property at a foreclosure auction last year.
Still, he allowed lawyers for Walker, and her recently formed collective, Moms 4 Housing, to make their case. They argued that housing is a right and that the court must give the women the right to possess the house, especially because it sat vacant for so long and because the alternative would be to send the women to live on the streets.
Wedgewood Properties has released the following statement in response to the eviction operation this morning:
Wedgewood is pleased the illegal occupation of its Oakland home has ended peacefully. That is what the company has sought since the start. We will now work with a non-profit, Shelter 37, to renovate the home giving opportunities to at-risk Oakland youths and splitting the profits with the non-profit so that other youths may benefit.
The solution to Oakland’s housing crisis is not the redistribution of citizens’ homes through illegal break-ins and seizures by squatters. That is the violent, dangerous, and unsuccessful path taken by this handful of activists and supported by three Oakland city council members and the Oakland Community Land Trust. Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas, Rebecca Kaplan, and Dan Kalb must take real steps to address Oakland’s drug abuse, mental illness, and homeless issues.
Bas, Kaplan and Kalb and the Oakland Community Land Trust shouldn’t participate in media stunts with activists Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Mothers for Housing. Instead, they should concentrate on finding a non-violent and progressive way to address Oakland housing crisis that doesn’t rely on the theft of other people’s homes to solve their problems and address this serious issue.Sam Singer, spokesman, Wedgewood
Walker says “this is just the beginning” and the fight isn’t over.
“We’ve built a movement of thousands of Oaklanders who showed up at a moments notice to reject police violence and advocate for homes for families,” the group said after the eviction. “This isn’t over, and it won’t be over until everyone in the Oakland community has a safe and dignified place to live.”
On Tuesday, Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, called the high-profile eviction a success because authorities feared a potential for violence.
Officers had to use the battering ram to get into the house because the back and front doors had been fortified, Kelly said. Two women and a man who were inside were arrested after they were given 5 minutes to leave and did not, he said. A fourth person was arrested outside the house.
“There was a tremendous amount of work that went into this and we had to think outside the box a little bit,” Kelly said.
Officers then boarded up the house with plywood and said it is up to Oakland police to arrest anyone caught trespassing. The house did not contain many belongings, Kelly said, and Wedgewood is responsible for returning those belongings.
Kelly said the department is considering billing Wedgewood for the “tens of thousands of dollars” associated with enforcing the eviction.
The people arrested will be booked on misdemeanor charges of resisting and obstruction, he said. No children were present during the 5:15 a.m. eviction because the mothers had sent them away for safekeeping.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.