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Two homeless mothers took over a vacant, investor-owned home in Oakland, California, on Monday to protest a rental crisis that had forced them to live outdoors while they work, go to school, and care for their children.
The women, 34-year-old Dominique Walker and 41-year-old Sameerah Karim, moved into the vacant property with help from community activists, according to the local Mercury News. Both women are part of a collective called Moms 4 Housing, and are living in the house — which has water and electricity — until police force them out. Activists and volunteers say they’re standing by, ready to protect them, if that happens. Walker is a mother to a 1-year-old and 4-year-old, and brought her children with her. She told the Mercury News she’s been homeless since April, after fleeing a domestic violence situation. Karim, who has an adult son, hasn’t had stable housing for five years and is currently trying to earn a nursing degree while working three jobs.
The home is owned by Wedgewood, a company that buys and flips distressed properties, according to KNTV, the Bay Area NBC affiliate. And the moms hope Wedgewood will take notice of just how difficult it is to find a home for a working, single mother, and offer to sell the property to them at an affordable price.
“Housing is a human right,” Walker told the Mercury News. “And today, I’m using that right.”
It's not clear what legal consequences the women might face.
Average rents in Oakland have soared more than 50% since 2012, with the average one-bedroom coming in at about $2,450 a month. That’s while wages have remained relatively stagnant and the population has boomed, thanks to the fast-growing tech sector that’s planted itself in the Bay Area and displaced low-income people in the process. Meanwhile, speculative investors have cashed in by snapping up properties and sitting on them until the value increases enough to make a lucrative sale. There are nearly 4,400 such vacant parcels in Oakland right now, according to the Mercury News.
Of course, that sort of economic climate puts anyone but the very wealthy and secure at risk of homelessness. But female renters — and black women most of all — are at an even higher risk of being evicted by their landlords. Amid the housing crisis, Oakland has seen its homeless population swell by 47% in just two years, to about 4,071 people. The vast majority of those people are longtime residents of Oakland, and most are black. About 40% are women, according to county data.
About a dozen of those women had previously created their own tent encampment on city-owned land, spearheaded by a woman who’d been homeless and without shelter for nearly a year while caring for her daughter. The women considered the encampment vital because they said it protected them from assault. However, the city evicted that encampment in December of last year. The city said it had offered them shelter, but women claimed the shelter was inadequate because they couldn’t stay there while working night jobs or caring for young children.
Monday’s protest in Oakland also isn’t the first time homeless people have protested inadequate shelter and unaffordable rent by overtaking vacant properties. In the late ‘80s, amid steep federal cuts to affordable housing programs, homeless advocates repeatedly took over vacant properties to bring awareness to the problem.
Cover: In this photo taken on Friday, May 17, 2019, a tent is seen pitched beside an abandoned building in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.