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Against the backdrop of California’s affordability crisis, pushing thousands of Black residents out of their homes and onto the streets, a group of unhoused working mothers in Oakland took matters into their own hands.
In November 2019, the mothers formed a group called Moms 4 Housing and illegally occupied a vacant, corporate-owned home on Magnolia Street in West Oakland. Standing on the shoulders of generations of iconic Oakland activists, such as the Black Panthers and Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the moms’ act of civil disobedience sparked a national reckoning around displacement and the erosion of African American neighborhoods.
“The Moms of Magnolia Street” follows the moms’ journeys as they took on the large home-flipping corporation and challenged the city’s power structure.
From government-backed housing discrimination, to predatory lending, through the corporatization of housing, “The Moms of Magnolia Street” also examines the historical forces that set the stage for our current housing crisis.
Who is Moms 4 Housing?
Dominique Walker: The mother of two young children, Dominique Walker has deep roots in Oakland. Her family has lived in the city since the 1940s. But when she returned from nursing school in Mississippi, Walker found Oakland to be a different city than the one she left. Despite working two jobs, Walker says she was unable to find an affordable place to live with her two children. Walker helped found Moms 4 Housing and says she’s committed to being an organizer for the rest of her life.
Tolani King: A McClymonds High School tennis coach and life-long educator, Tolani King says her tennis team never believed she was homeless until Moms 4 Housing made headlines. She unexpectedly became a mother in her early 20’s after adopting two sets of siblings from a family member and a close friend. King’s family has been active in West Oakland going back four decades. Along with her parents and adopted children, King distributes free food to the community each week, in spite of being housing insecure herself.
Misty Cross: After being shot multiple times in 2006 while riding her bike through West Oakland, Misty Cross says she was driven to become a fierce education advocate for her children and their community. Cross says she worked multiple jobs to provide for her family but still struggled to find an affordable place to live in her hometown. She was living in a homeless shelter with her three daughters before occupying the house on Magnolia Street. Cross says it was time to take drastic measures after being let down by city services for so long.
Carroll Fife: As a regional director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Fife describes herself as a servant of the people. It was in this role that Fife helped bring the moms together to form Moms 4 Housing and help coordinate the action on Magnolia Street. The momentum behind Moms 4 Housing helped propel Fife to a spot on Oakland’s city council, where she now represents the West Oakland community.
The Homeowner: Wedgewood
Months before Moms 4 Housing illegally occupied the vacant home on Magnolia Street, a large home-flipping corporation out of Southern California called Wedgewood had purchased the foreclosed home with the intention of fixing it up and selling it at a profit. But Moms 4 Housing changed all of that. After being silent on the moms’ occupation at first, they soon hired Bay Area crisis communications expert Sam Singer to be their voice, refusing to negotiate with Moms 4 Housing until the moms were out of the home. NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit dug into Wedgewood’s business, and found the company operates through a sprawling web of LLCs. Wedgewood operates in at least 28 states and as of this year owned at least 1,500 properties across the country.