Dominique Walker, 34, of the grassroots activist group Moms 4 Housing, is a mother and one of the unhoused women and children who last November began to occupy a vacant home in West Oakland that Wedgewood Property Management, a real estate investment company, owned. A video of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office cops who arrived in an armored vehicle, dressed in SWAT attire, and forcibly evicted M4H from that abode in January went viral across the US and around the world. A native of Oakland, Walker has two young children and is a full-time organizer of the Black Housing Union, a chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Below is an edited version of our phone interview in late February.
Seth Sandronsky: What is your background of social justice activity before you formed M4H?
Dominique Walker: My activism began at the age of 14. I was involved in a group called Yacin (which means together in Swahili) around education issues at Castlemont High School in East Oakland.
SS: Explain M4H’s links with other social justice groups.
DW: We are with the struggles of everyone else in this country. The 1% has all the wealth. We have a common struggle with capitalism. We are trying to build a coalition of folks to join this movement. (One group on board with M4H since it began is the Poor People’s Campaign Bay Area Supporters Steering Committee. Later, Oakland Councilmembers Nikki Fortunado Bas, Rebecca Kaplan, and Dan Kalb came on board after many community members had publicly protested as Alameda sheriffs carried out the armed eviction.)
SS: What has surprised you the most about your experience with M4H?
DW: That effort has resonated with folks all over the world. They are experiencing injustice in housing insecurity. Rent is high for people globally. In Oakland, we have 4,000 to 6,000 people sleeping on the streets daily, a 47% increase over the past two years. The wage that you have to earn in Oakland to rent a one-bedroom apartment is $40 an hour. (In contrast, the state minimum wage is $13 per hour.)
SS: There is state legislation to address the affordable housing crisis, thanks to Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who introduced Senate Bill 1079 to let local jurisdictions use vacant single-family homes as affordable housing and to grant the municipal governments the authority to fine corporations that keep homes empty for long stretches of time. In that political context that your group help to create, what is next for M4H?
DW: We are working on expanding the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, or TOPA, a city ordinance in Berkeley and Oakland. We want to expand TOPA to include nonprofits and land trusts to purchase investor-owned vacant homes that corporations (like Wedgewood) bought during the foreclosure crisis.
We are also in the final stages of negotiating with Wedgewood to purchase the home that M4H lived in from November to January. Housing is a human right.
SS: Thank you.
DW: You are welcome.
For more information about M4H, visit https://moms4housing.org/.