“There’s a real simple bottom line, which is you can’t steal people’s property,” said Sam Singer of the powerhouse firm Singer Associates Public Relations, which represents Wedgewood. “The home belongs to Wedgewood and the many people who invest in Wedgewood. And the women took this house — stole this house — and have no right to it.”
Wedgewood bought the house in a foreclosure sale July 31 for $501,000, with plans to renovate the property and put it back on the market, Singer said. Because Wedgewood wasn’t sure if someone was still living in the home at the time, the company went through a formal eviction process with the former occupant, which ended last month.
The Moms 4 Housing members said after they moved into the house Nov. 18, they reached out to Wedgewood with the hope of negotiating a deal to buy the home, and received no response. But Singer said Wedgewood received no direct communication from the women, and found out about their occupation of the house in the news.
Wedgewood will not negotiate with the women as long as they remain in the house, Singer said. If they leave voluntarily, the company would be willing to discuss the opportunity to purchase the home, like it would with any other potential buyer.
Walker, who had been living in hotels and couch surfing before moving into the Magnolia Street house, said her 1-year-old son has started walking since they moved in — a milestone she credits to the newfound space and stability living in a house has given them.
Walker and the others did what any mother would do who is desperate to put a roof over her child’s head, activist and 2018 Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks said during Friday’s media conference.
“What else does elected government expect us to do?” she asked. “Keep being hungry? Keep being unhoused?”
Brooks called on supporters to come out in force Dec. 17 in order to stop the eviction, but declined to specify exactly how she hopes to prevent deputies from removing the women. An online petition launched earlier this week in support of Moms 4 Housing had raked in more than 1,200 signatures Friday afternoon.
Brooks and other activists blamed Oakland’s homelessness crisis on companies like Wedgewood, which they said buy up properties, displace residents and then leave homes empty. There are an estimated 4,366 vacant parcels in Oakland, and voters approved a tax on those unused parcels last year in an effort to encourage owners to move people in. At the same time, there are 4,071 homeless residents in Oakland — up nearly 50 percent from two years ago, according to the city’s biennial homeless count, conducted earlier this year.
Singer said companies like Wedgewood buy distressed properties and foreclosed homes, rehabilitate them, and make the homes and their neighborhoods better.
“While the company’s hearts go out to people who are homeless, and the company does a great deal to help them,” Singer said, “that does not give anyone the right to take someone else’s property illegally and unethically.”