‘It’s Simply Theft’: Developer Balks As Support Surges For Squatters Living In Empty Home Since November

A growing number of California politicians are standing behind two homeless women who have been illegally living in a vacant three-bedroom home in Oakland since November.

Dominique Walker, 34, and Sameerah Karim, 41, moved into 2928 Magnolia Street in Oakland after failing to find affordable housing for themselves and their young kids. They have simultaneously formed Moms 4 Housing, a collective aimed at drawing attention to the housing crisis roiling California and speaking out against real estate developers who buy homes and leave them sitting empty.

As the collective grew, several politicians have spoken out in support of Walker and Karim.

“I want to thank Moms 4 Housing for taking that house and for demonstrating that nowhere, nowhere should there be a vacant house anywhere in California when we have the housing crisis that we have,” Democratic Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley told CBS. “And it was totally legitimate for those homeless moms to take over that house.”

The three-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot property is owned by Southern California investment company Wedgewood, which bought it at a foreclosure auction in July for $501,000. The company purchases distressed or abandoned houses, fixes them up and sells them.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney issued a tentative ruling saying that the women are occupying the property illegally, although the final decision on whether the women will get evicted should be made in the coming weeks.

“Wedgewood owns this home, and these squatters have broken into it, they’re illegally occupying it, and that is not the right thing to do,” a spokesman for Wedgewood, Sam Singer, told CBS. “It’s simply theft. This is really a case about a group of people taking the law into their own hands.”

But while Singer called the women’s actions “theft,” others have supported their plight by saying that it highlights a growing housing crisis in southern California.

2928 Magnolia Street in Oakland, where the women have been living since November | Courtesy: Google Maps

Following the rise of technology companies and subsequent spike in property values in the Bay Area, many people were forced out of their homes and onto the streets. According to CBS, the number of homeless people in California rose from 1,900 to more than 3,000 in the last two years alone.

A median price in the Bay Area now commands upward of $900,000. Leah Simon-Weisberg, an attorney for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, told CBS there are now four vacant homes for every homeless person as developers try to profit off of booming housing prices by snapping up properties in poor and minority neighborhoods at a rate not possible for working people from the same neighborhoods.

Another politician who supported Moms 4 Housing was California assemblyman Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose. He issued a statement saying that the people need to ensure “opportunistic landlords and corporate landlords” don’t “keep our homes vacant.”

Email Veronika Bondarenko

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