Homeless mothers fighting to occupy empty Oakland home win brief reprieve

Two homeless mothers who have been occupying a vacant West Oakland home for six weeks won at least a temporary victory on Monday when a judge didn’t rule on the property owner’s request that they be evicted.

Instead, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney said at a hearing that was packed by the mothers’ supporters that he will take the matter under submission and rule at an unspecified later date.

Mothers Dominique Walker, 34, and Sameerah Karim, 41, who are part of a group called Moms 4 Housing, moved into the house at 2928 Magnolia St. on Nov. 18, saying they want to call attention to Oakland’s homelessness crisis and to vacant, investor-owned homes in the city.

Real estate investment firm Wedgewood Properties bought the house, which had been vacant for two years, for $501,078 at a foreclosure hearing on July 31. Wedgewood recently served an eviction notice on the women but attorneys for the women and four other people filed legal claims asserting their right to live there.

McKinney issued a tentative ruling last week saying the claims do not appear to provide a basis for a valid claim of right to possession.

At Monday’s hearing, McKinney said he’s inclined not to grant claims to the women but said he would take the matter under submission before he rules because “I want to carefully consider the issues that have been raised.”

Attorneys for the women argued that they should be allowed to live at the house in the interest of justice and based on a needs analysis of Oakland’s homelessness crisis.

Wedgewood’s attorney Francisco Gutierrez urged McKinney to dismiss the women’s claims immediately, saying, “A delay only benefits one party in this case,” referring to the mothers.

After the hearing, tenant rights attorney Leah Simon-Weisberg, one of the lawyers who represent the women, said the fact that McKinney took the matter under submission “is significant because he could have ruled from the bench.”

Simon-Weisberg said, “The court definitely engaged in arguments about whether the mothers have a right to possession (of the house) based on need.” Walker said, “We’re glad the judge took our arguments under consideration.”

Oakland City Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato-Bas, who attended the hearing with Bobbi Lopez, the policy director for Council President Rebecca Kaplan, said Wedgewood should negotiate a deal with Moms 4 Housing and the Oakland Community Land Trust, a nonprofit that buys property and converts it to affordable housing, in which the nonprofit would buy the house and allow the women to continue living there.

But Wedgewood said in a news release, “We will not meet or negotiate with the squatters’ organization that broke into our house and is illegally occupying it.”

The real estate firm said it is “sympathetic to the concerns of homelessness, but we will not consider discussions until after we are in peaceful possession of our house.”

Fortunato-Bas told Walker and Karim outside of court, “What you are doing is incredibly brave,” saying their actions are “just and right for you and other homeless families.”

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