When We Say Protect Black Women, That Means Their Homes, Too
The #Moms4Housing deserved better.
January 18, 2020 at 1:22 am
This is the weekly column written by Blavity:Politics Senior Editor Kandist Mallett.
As of right now, the median price of a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland, California, is $2,490. On the flip side of that, the minimum wage in Oakland is $14.14 an hour. So, someone working full-time hours at a minimum-wage job could not afford most apartments in Oakland.
West Oakland, a historically Black community, has been suffering from the trend that's inflicting many urban cities: gentrification. Its proximity to San Francisco and the unique charm of craftsman-built homes and older buildings have made it an ideal place for hipsters to move to once they’ve landed their tech job. And while there’s nothing wrong with moving to a new place and needing housing, gentrification has made it so those who are native to these communities can no longer afford to live there.
That’s the case for Dominique Walker, who has been displaced yet again by the city, police, and real estate developers. An Oakland native, Walker became homeless while having full-time employment. She, along with two other families, decided to occupy a vacant home, not only for shelter but to protest against the housing crisis in her home city. Walker, along with several others, founded Moms 4 Housing to demand housing for all unhoused people. On the group's website, they state there are “four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are homeless people. We have lost our humanity. There are children sleeping on the streets - we should be outraged!”
Humanity is something that wasn’t shown Tuesday night when Alameda sheriff's deputies showed up to evict unhoused mothers and their children. These deputy officers were dressed in camouflage uniforms and helmets, riding on tanks. You’d think it was an image from Iraq or some other nation the United States is occupying. But, no, all of that was for Black mothers trying to make sure their children had shelter from the cold winter.The vacant home in question will be refurbished and most likely sold for some ridiculous amount of money by the real estate company Wedgewood Properties. Corporations treating housing as a business instead of a necessity is at the center of the housing crisis.
Sam Singer, a spokesman for Wedgewood Properties, said in a statement, “The activists and Oakland Councilmembers 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.” But, other people’s homes this was not. Wedgewood Properties is in the business of flipping homes across the nation. According to The Intercept, Wedgewood Properties has filed hundreds of eviction cases in the Bay area alone.
Three Oakland city council members tried to work with Wedgewood to sell the home to an affordable land trust that would allow the mothers to stay, but the property business refused the deal. Singer also said in response to the council member's attempt to help that they “must take real steps to address Oakland’s drug abuse, mental illness, and homeless issues,” while drug abuse and mental illness is not the sole, or even main, cause of Oakland’s housing crisis. What the eviction of the Moms 4 Housing home reflects is that the homelessness issue in the United States is more nuanced than how it is often portrayed.
The homeless are often viewed as either drug-addicted or mentally ill. And while none of those things should justify why someone deserves to be without a home, it is a convenient narrative because it individualizes the issue instead of looking at the larger societal and systemic problem. A society that allows for some to be homeless so others can gain wealth is sick and inhumane. There is no reason why there should be empty homes and people sleeping on the streets who need them.
Thinking about Singer’s comment about mental health in regards to the violent eviction of those Black families is really upsetting. Those mothers and their children have had an obscene amount of trauma inflicted upon them, from not having a home to the terrifying Alameda deputies para-trooping in for the eviction. The level of anti-blackness and overall misogynoir in all of this is just astounding and infuriating.
The state of housing in cities like Oakland is deeply in crisis, and we need immediate action to be taken. This action looks like more than just more shelters. We need government intervention and regulations to ensure people have housing that is safe and adequate to provide a standard of living that every human deserves.
There are literally people sleeping on the streets who are forced to use the restroom on sidewalks and look through the trash for food. They deserve better, and if the government doesn’t do more when it comes to this, then don’t be surprised when people who are desperate for shelter turn to more drastic measures than just occupying empty homes.