Moms 4 Housing mark anniversary with march to foreclosure auction

A year after a group of homeless Oakland moms grabbed hearts and headlines by seizing a vacant West Oakland house, Moms 4 Housing and some supporters marked the anniversary by marching on the René C. Davidson Courthouse Tuesday to disrupt a foreclosure auction in the rain.

No one showed up for the twice-weekly auction on the courthouse steps, so the housing activists counted it as a victory — one of many the group has tallied since it took over the house.

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“This is typical — they see us coming, they start a-running,” said Alia Phelpa, a member of the Moms group.

Since last Nov. 17, when four homeless moms moved into a rundown home in the process of being fixed up and sold for a profit by the owner, Wedgewood Properties — the Moms have experienced many victories, including attracting national attention and support for their cause of housing homeless people and preventing evictions.

The four moms, who lived in the house on a rotating basis for two months, were eventually evicted from the home at 2829 Magnolia St., now known as Mom’s House. Their eviction came before dawn on Jan. 14 when Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies showed used a battering ram to break down the doors. The four mothers were arrested but the District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges.

That was just the start of the good news for the Moms. Wedgewood Properties agreed to sell it to the Oakland Community Land Trust, a non-profit housing group, which in turn sold it to Moms 4 Housing for use as homeless housing. The company also agreed to offer occupants of more than 50 buildings it owned in Oakland the first chance at buying them.

But the group’s biggest victory may have come just last month. Carroll Fife, a Moms 4 Housing leader, was elected to the Oakland City Council, defeating Lynette Gibson McElhaney in a stunning victory. When she’s sworn in in January, she will represent a district that includes West Oakland, Downtown, Uptown, Jack London, Pill Hill, Lake Merritt and the Port of Oakland.

Fife addressed the crowd of 50 or so gathered on the rain-drenched steps, telling them her election to the council isn’t the end of their fight, predicting she will be shut out as someone who’s “divisive and antagonistic,” which she said she’s not.

“All of us just want a basic decent living,” she said. “We want to be safe and secure but our systems require us to fight, so we have to keep fighting. I need your help.”

Oakland’s homelessness problem, clearly visible with encampments around the city, is only getting worse, housing activists said. In 2019, the city estimated it had more than 4,000 people without housing, a 47% increase in two years. Counts have not been updated for 2020 but everyone agrees the situation has grown much worse.

“It doesn’t stop,” Phelpa said. “Family after family, foreclosure after foreclosure. Even if you’re in a tent, they’re tearing down encampments. It doesn’t stop.”

Even though the battle to end homelessness may seem daunting, Fife reminded the group that the Moms have already made strides.

“We were able to do what people said was impossible,” she said, recalling the takeover of the house. “Force a speculator to turn over a house to community control. We didn’t have any idea it would be heard around the world.”

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ctuan

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