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Mothers 4 Housing and the Legacy of Black Anti-Growth Politics

Starting in the 1970s, groups like MOVE and Seeds of Wisdom have fought for the decolonization of urban space.

Yesterday at 6 a.m., deputies of the Oakland Police Department violently evicted an organized group of Black mothers, Moms 4 Housing, who had been squatting in a home in West Oakland owned by real estate speculators. Beginning in November, the women commandeered the house along with their children to protest the ongoing displacement of working-class Black communities by developers. Led by Dominique Walker, these women stood up not only for their progeny but also “for everyone in the Oakland community” who they claim deserve a “safe and dignified place to live.”

By refusing to leave, Moms 4 Housing staked a radical claim on the city. Despite the fact that empty housing units outnumber the homeless in Oakland, developers and politicians continue to forward the erroneous claim that speculative development will make for better, more livable cities. In reality, as these women’s ongoing protest brings to the fore, the city is protecting the rights of real estate speculators to profit at the incalculable cost wrought through the distress and trauma caused by intergenerational expropriation from the already property-less. These women’s political strategy is drawing out the contradictions: Oakland, like many other cities across the US, is willing to displace real communities for prospective future residents who have, as of yet, never materialized.

The unjust removal of Moms 4 Housing and their arrest demonstrate the ways that the paradigm of speculative growth privileges profit over the lives of displaced residents from “gentrifying” communities. This shared experience of forced removal across many US cities is of course not by happenstance. From Oakland to Philadelphia, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) and other large-scale real estate managers, organized speculatively, are driving the total redevelopment of urban cores at the expense of the historical communities who sustained American cities while federal and state officials, as well as investors, disinvested from them between the 1970s and the 1990s. REITS, like those transforming Oakland and other cities, were codified legally through a rider bill on the Cigar Excise Tax Extension signed by Dwight Eisenhower in September 1960. Although not utilized at a large scale until the 1980s, since 2008 they have been a major site of investment, growing in returns and capitalization disproportionate to other markets in the aftermath of the Great Recession.1 According to the 1960 legislation, they are defined as an “unincorporated trust or an unincorporated association … (1) which is managed by one or more trustees; (2) the beneficial ownership of which is evidenced by transferable shares, or by transferable certificates of beneficial interest; (3) which (but for the provisions of this part) would be taxable as a domestic corporation; (4) which does not hold any property primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of its trade or business; (5) the beneficial ownership of which is held by 100 or more persons … .”