The Race and Wealth Podcast Network

Radical Imagination 8 - Housing As A Human Right

July 10, 2020 The Race & Wealth Team on how to close the racial wealth divide through art, media, policy, literacy, and action
The Race and Wealth Podcast Network
Radical Imagination 8 - Housing As A Human Right
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The Race and Wealth Podcast Network
Radical Imagination 8 - Housing As A Human Right
Jul 10, 2020
The Race & Wealth Team on how to close the racial wealth divide through art, media, policy, literacy, and action

In this episode we talk about housing as a human right, the issues with current housing and how we got here with Dominique Walker from Moms For Housing and Tara Raghuveer from Peoples Actions.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we talk about housing as a human right, the issues with current housing and how we got here with Dominique Walker from Moms For Housing and Tara Raghuveer from Peoples Actions.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Welcome to season two of the radical imagination podcast where we dive into the stories and solutions that are fueling change. I'm your host Angela Glover Blackwell. To launch this season we visit California, the epicenter of a national homelessness crisis and the place where a group of mothers is standing up against Real estate investors.

Recording :

Moms for housing say they want to reclaim vacant homes and let homeless women live in them.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

In 2019, there were nearly 568,000 homeless people in the United States. Most of them were living in shelters, and more than a third lived in the streets, abandoned buildings or other places. California alone saw its homeless population go up by 16% last year. It's one of the places where rapidly rising housing costs continue to drive the crisis.

Recording :

Troubling new numbers for the city of Oakland. Some data showing more than 4,000 homeless people are living in the city right now.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Last November, two homeless mothers in Oakland decided to occupy a house owned by a private investment firm. The house had been sitting vacant for nearly two years.

Recording :

"We are reclaiming this house from a billion dollar corporation."

Angela Glover Blackwell :

The women are part of a collective of homeless mothers they help to co found known as Moms For Housing. To talk more about this movement. We're joined by Dominique Walker. She's one of the mothers reclaiming the orphan property and one of the founders of Moms For Housing. Dominique, welcome to radical imagination.

Dominique Walker :

Thank you. Thank you for having me here.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

I understand that you grew up in Oakland. Tell me about your relationship with Oakland, the place that you call home.

Dominique Walker :

I love Oakland. Born and raised. My family has been here for generations since the migration from the south. Growing up in Oakland was amazing. It was like right outside of San Francisco so wasn't really like city, city. A lot of my friends, we played outside, we got into palm trees, and did those kind of things. It was a sense of community.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And I heard that you attended Castlemount High School. I know Castlemount High School has a real spirit. What was that like?

Dominique Walker :

I love Castlemount. I started organizing at 14. We ended up co founding the high school that I graduated from, which was the school of social justice and community development.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

What do you think laid the foundation for you to be an organizer at such an early age?

Dominique Walker :

I don't know if I would call it a rebel spirit. But my grandparents sure thought it was. Because I was raised by my great grandparents until I was a teenager. So the spirit of the Panthers I feel like is me and I would hear my grandmother talk about the Black Panthers in the breakfast program and how she would only date a Panther and things like that.

Recording :

Summary with the major political objective. That is we won't land, bread, housing, clothing.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And what do you do when you finished Castlemount?

Dominique Walker :

I went off to college. I went to Tougaloo College in Mississippi. It's a small HBCU. And it was difficult because I am the oldest and I had to take care of my two younger siblings. So trying to navigate college and then try to parent from afar. It took me a while to finish one when I finished I stayed around and Jackson. I was actually going to school to be a nurse practitioner, which I still will at some point.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And then you ended up homeless.

Dominique Walker :

I was in a domestic dispute with the father of my children. So I felt like the best thing to do with you know, having like no family members there. I had built a community I guess around me but my family wasn't there and it was a very abusive situation mentally, physically. So I decided to come home and move back to California. It was unexpected. It was just like one of those emergency situations where you have to leave. And I came home April 3 of this year, and my neighborhood wasn't the same.

Recording :

Housing prices may be stabilizing but rents are still rising rents here in the Bay Area are creeping up for the ninth month in a row.

Dominique Walker :

Sleeping in different family members houses, that not working out. When we had to sleep in a hotel room. The only other time I think my children have been in a hotel room was when we went my to Memphis like on vacation or something like that. My four year old had question and she was like, are we in a vacation? Like she didn't understand why we were in a hotel room. So having that conversation with her was really hard. I want people to remember that being homeless is violent, you become very vulnerable to people that prey upon you, your children. It's not a safe, safe space at all, and you don't rest. As a single mom. It's my responsibility to provide for my children. So I felt like I wasn't doing that. Even though I'm working two jobs like I'm working a full time job and a side job and I still cannot provide for my children. So it made me feel like I have failed as a parent. When I got home, I was organizing as a community outreach coordinator. And talking to people out in the streets. I was offering our services as far as like legal help from like wrongful evictions, rent increases, things like that. And this program was Trying to prevent more people from becoming homeless. But it just seemed like we were a little too late because I had pages and pages of working folks, the stories that I would hear are so similar to mine, but a lot of moms were homeless with their children because they're escaping domestic violence. And it really made me feel like well, this is not an isolated issue. It's not just me. People with stories just like they have degrees, they have several jobs. They are working 80 hours a week, and it becomes a matter of like, who deserves housing because these people are working, and they're coming to tents or hotels rooms or housing insecure, like sleeping on couches are one situation away from potentially being homeless.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And did that lead to the founding of Moms For Housing?

Dominique Walker :

Absolutely. None of our city elected officials were helping us and the programs in place weren't helping us. It came out of desperation. I went through several programs that were supposed to help me. In the end, they did not. I went to a program that was supposed to help with like rent funding was cut in the middle of a housing crisis in Oakland. And then there's four vacant properties for every one homeless person. And so it only makes sense to move folks in to those vacant properties and the city has a lot of vacant properties. And I even went to city council and hear them talk about solutions and it didn't include none of those vulnerable people that these services are meant for. They should be a part of the conversation of their own solutions.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And then what happened when you decided to occupy the spaces that were just sitting there.

Dominique Walker :

I was just ready, ready for a change ready to be sheltered, ready for my kids to have shelter a place to call their own.

Recording :

The group posted this video to their Facebook page today as they took over a house on Magnolia Street. They say it's been empty for two years. According to the Bay Area news group, the larger goal is to take back investor on properties that are vacant in neighborhoods where the moms grew up, but can no longer afford to live in. The West Oakland property is owned by...

Dominique Walker :

My daughter was just running through the house. Oh, we have a house. Since we've been stable, I've seen the change and my my children like my one year old, he started walking, because he had the space to walk. When you're living with other folks and at hotels, you don't have the space and then you're limited and you're living by somebody else's rules or like, keep it quiet at a certain time. So you're having to like, tell your children to be quiet when they're naturally just want to have fun and play and do those type of things. So I've seen a real change and my children. We have a lot of supporters. They came in donated their time, their skills to us, the overwhelming amount of support, it was amazing. It's a beautiful block in West Oakland, all the houses are nice. And there's one house on the corner, an eye sore. Talking to the neighbors, they're so happy that we've moved in. We actually had the pressure wash the whole outside and the inside cleaned and the neighbors were scared that somebody was gonna do some type of violent crimes out of the house or any kind of drug activity or anything like that, because it's just been sitting there, and they're happy that we're here.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Did you have any particular feeling about the fact that this property was a corporate landlord as opposed to a neighbor landlord?

Dominique Walker :

Yes. And this particular corporation is composed of five different companies and they all play a part in displacement like one sales, the predatory loans and one buys the distressed mortgage and One gets it and flips it and then one is responsible for selling it at a higher rate. So it's all composed of this one Corporation. So they're actually directly responsible for a displacement in Oakland and we want them out.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

So clearly, part of what you wanted was a place to live where your family could feel comfortable. But I have the impression because you're so focused on social change, that you also had a change strategy in mind. Can you talk us through exactly what you were trying to accomplish by moving into that particular home?

Dominique Walker :

Yes, we want to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness and what the new face of homelessness is looking like and housing as secure as our teachers, nurses as organizers. It's hard working folks that are displaced and have nowhere to go and who are sleeping wherever they can or in tents in their cars.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Homelessness is something that a lot of people are worried About a lot of people are talking about what do you think are the biggest misconceptions in this country when it comes to homelessness,

Dominique Walker :

That folks are lazy don't want to work drug addicts, mental health issues, even though homelessness it causes mental health issues that folks just don't want to work. They don't have any drive or ambition, when really is the wages that they're making in the jacking up of the rents were not able to afford. I know when I first got back, I applied to live somewhere and they wanted me to pay $8,000 to move in to a one bedroom cottage. Like you can walk in and walk straight through the back door. That's how big it was. And the deposit for me and my children to move in was $8,000. And I feel like if I had $8,000 I wouldn't need to live here.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And I do think something else that you've talked about. A lot of people see the homeless crisis as being A personal failing, and you've kind of spoke to that. And you said it's not about that at all. And the other thing that people see is they see people moving out of Oakland, and they don't see a relationship between that and homelessness. Can you talk about what the relationship is?

Dominique Walker :

Yes, we're being displaced. gentrification is happening. It's not only happening in Oakland, like I see it starting to happen in Jackson, Mississippi, where downtown. They're building luxury apartments starting off at $1100 and $1200 a month when the minimum wage is like $7.55 an hour. So everywhere I traveled, it seems like the ones formerly places that folks didn't want to stay. They want to live there Now, like I know, like the tech industry, and folks like that want to live in Oakland, they want to live closer to where they work. So the prices are going up. We're getting pushed out, and they're coming in.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And you are describing a national crisis. The housing crisis is a national problem. Have you found that what you and your colleagues, mom's for housing, what you're doing inspiring people across the country. What are you hearing about that?

Dominique Walker :

I hope it does. folks have been reaching out from all over and I hope it does inspire folks to organize themselves and not wait around for elected officials to make a decision about something as so important and a basic human right. I hope folks do what's necessary to provide shelter is absolutely necessary.

Recording :

A vacant house owned by real estate investment firm Wedgewood property. Wedgewood properties is offered to pay for moving expenses and temporary housing for the women for two months if they vacate the house and proposal moms for housing is rejected. The battle for the house came to a head last week when an Alameda county judge ruled in favor of Wedgewood properties and ordered the mothers to vacate the house but...

Angela Glover Blackwell :

You've recently received an eviction notice that was just tacked on the door right. Were you surprised when you saw it or you just been expecting it?

Dominique Walker :

Yeah, I've been expecting it at some point I thought it would be addressed to us directly. The eviction notice isn't addressed to Moms For Housing is addressed to the previous owner. We want to sit down and negotiate. We sent out letters we've been calling. They have not acknowledged us. We just want to sit down at the table and negotiate.

Recording :

What these people are doing is the wrong thing. There are bullies and there are thieves. Sam, singer, spokesman for real estate firm Wedgwood, speaking outside the Hayward Hall of Justice, where a hearing on the pending eviction in Oakland was kicked back to the 30th. The delay, however, does not change the judges tentative ruling that Wedgwood is in fact the owner of the home and the eviction is lawful, but this is not just a legal fight.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Are you worried about the legal consequences?

Dominique Walker :

No, I'm worried about folks sleeping on the street more than I am about any legal consequences because even though I have shelter there's so many other folks that I'm fighting for and organizing for that don't have housing. So, no.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

I love to find the people who are making the kind of change that you're making are bringing a lot of power this superpower, what's your superpower?

Dominique Walker :

I think my superpower is is the love for my people and wanting to commit my life to that.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Dominic, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Dominique Walker :

Thank you for having me.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Dominique Walker, she's one of the mothers reclaiming the Oakland property and one of the founders of Moms For Housing. In January, two months after Mom's For Housing had moved into the home, the police raided the property.

Recording :

They have broken down the front door to mom's house. My understanding is that they are just sitting down, waiting to take arrest rather than leave willingly.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Because it happened while Dominique was in the middle of an interview with the show democracy now.

Recording :

We just hear that there was a text that says the sheriff is knocking on the door and saying people have to clear out Is that your understanding as we're speaking. we're gonna go Oh, okay. Yeah, I think we gotta go. We gotta go. Well, we'll continue to cover this...

Angela Glover Blackwell :

It was just a matter of time until hundreds of people including advocates and press arrived to the Magnolia street home to show support for the evicted mothers.

Recording :

Oakland! Ya'll were able to respond so quiclky because you are Oakland. This house was a statement, it was a symbol of what needs to happen in Oakland and was an absolute victory, we're still victorious and we're gonna keep it moving.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Here's what moms for housing had to say soon after the raid, quote, "we've built a movement of thousands of Oaklanders who showed up at moment's notice to reject police violence and advocate for homes for families. This isn't over. And it won't be over until everyone in the Oakland community has a safe and dignified place to live." close quote. Weeks after the eviction Moms For Housing began negotiations with the City of Oakland and the company that owns the home, paving the way for the moms to make an offer on the house. Coming up on radical imagination, we hear about the new homes guarantee proposal designed to ensure the right to housing for everyone. Stay with us more when we come back.

Recording :

Are you someone who wants to create a society where all can participate and prosper? Visit our website at radicalimagination.us to take action and connect with campaigns and organizations around issues covered by this podcast. It's crucial that we get support to continue to lift up stories and solutions to address our most pressing problems. To do this, we need you to tell your friends and family about radical imagination. Ask them to subscribe, share and comment on their chosen podcast platform. You can also find us on the race and wealth Podcast Network, like what you've heard today. Tell us about it. Go to Apple podcasts to rate and review radical imagination. And thank you.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And we're back. this past winter a national network of grassroots activists came on With a new homes guarantee platform, a proposal which would include the construction of 12 million new and affordable homes. This is key to restructuring how the US housing market works. We're now joined by Tara Raghuveer. She's the housing campaign director for people's action, one of the leading organizations of the campaign. And she joins us from a studio in Kansas City, Missouri. Tara, welcome to radical imagination.

Tara Raghuveer :

Thanks so much.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

I understand that there are more than 500,000 homeless people in the US How did we get there?

Tara Raghuveer :

The crisis that we face now is almost immeasurable. And I think to understand how we got to this moment, we have to start at the very beginning. This country was built on the theft of native land, and then property rights which were written into law by white men, and written also to include human beings as property, many of those same property rights. Stay with us today. While we have had huge federal investment In housing, they've almost exclusively gone to middle and upper class white folks in America, and helped to secure white wealth. And since the 1980s. And under this era of neoliberalism, we've seen housing be treated as a third rail issue to privatized housing. And that's kind of laid the groundwork for the crisis in 2020. Where, if you're a working class person, if you're a minimum wage worker, working full time, you can't afford a two bedroom apartment in any county in the United States, whether it's urban, suburban, or rural,

Recording :

low supply is pushing rents higher, particularly on the lower end of the market, where they jumped nearly 4% annually in September that according to

Tara Raghuveer :

homelessness is on the rise. But it's actually really hard to talk about homelessness and whether it's getting better or worse, because the way we understand homelessness is outdated relative to what we need in 2020. So we have one leader in our base named Tiana Caldwell, who fell behind On her rent because she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the spring of 2018. And that caused her landlord to evict her. And then she spent the better part of the next year homeless, living between families, couches, in hotels where she was paying about $300 a week with her husband and her son, AJ. And that form of homelessness is on the rise, as housing insecurity is more and more pervasive, but unfortunately, we have no way of actually measuring that so that we can push for solutions.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

And how much does the practice of companies buying and flipping homes actually contribute to the lack of affordable housing?

Tara Raghuveer :

Oh, it's huge. And it's been on the rise in the last decade since the financial crisis. These are big banks. They'll buy a really distressed property, and they'll rent it out to poor and working class people in a given city. Now, other real estate speculators will buy up vacant properties and just sit on them, because sitting on those properties is profitable, hundreds of thousands if not millions of vacant homes in this country, at the same time, as we have a deep homelessness crisis, and we have people literally dying on the streets for the crime of being poor.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Tell us about people's action.

Tara Raghuveer :

People's action is a grassroots organizing network with over a million members across the country. And we are a coalition of multiracial, poor and working class folks across all of these different geographies.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Can you walk us through the steps that led to the creation of the new homes guarantee proposal

Tara Raghuveer :

two years ago in the summer of 2018, we had a retreat with the housing groups in people's action. About 50 of those leaders and a handful of organizers gathered in a retreat space in upstate New York. So the leaders gave us this crux of the idea, right that we want to live in a world where everyone has a safe, healthy, accessible, truly and permanently affordable home

Recording :

housing. It tells us everything about our foundations. And let's be honest, it's a disaster. for working people. rents are soaring, while eviction and homelessness can be one paycheck away.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Now walk us through what is the home's guaranteed proposal, and how would it be implemented?

Tara Raghuveer :

There's a demand for 12 million units of social housing. There's a demand for fully funded and weatherized and repaired public housing. There's a demand for tenant protections, including national rent control. And there's a demand to end the practice of real estate speculation. There's an important piece of the homes guarantee proposal that's about restorative justice and reparations in the context of housing policy. We had to think about the homes guarantee in terms of the most green most efficient, most sustainable set of policies as well.

Recording :

A green new deal for housing is one of the best ways to attack inequality and climate pollution at the same time.

Tara Raghuveer :

So in each component of the plan, there is a heavy emphasis on a home's guarantee must be a green homes guarantee because we know that climate instability is actually one of the main reasons that people are moving. And the people who are on the frontlines of the climate catastrophe are the same people who are the most impacted by the housing crisis.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Do you have a narrative that you use to push back on those who like to say, failed public housing and point to the fact that Pruitt I go in Missouri was blown up and I think the same was true for the Robert Taylor homes torn down in Chicago. What do you say to those people who say tried that didn't work?

Tara Raghuveer :

public housing was it dignified place to live when it was constructed around the New Deal era,

Recording :

this housing development will lead the way to better living conditions for families of low income.

Tara Raghuveer :

It was a place mostly for white working class families. And it was decent, it was a nice place. And then we subsidized the mortgages of most white working class families. And that led to a white exodus to the suburbs,

Recording :

almost 1000 families will find modern apocalypse at modest friends when this model becomes a reality.

Tara Raghuveer :

And it secured white wealth into this century, and it will for centuries to come. And it was only when black and brown people started being the kind of predominant population within public housing, that we saw this massive disinvestment from the government so that private entities could start making money from housing poor and working class people. And that's exactly what happened. It has been a bipartisan campaign to stigmatize public housing.

Recording :

There are dozens and dozens and dozens of other projects around the country that are quite literally hellholes. Too often the gangbangers or somebody else with a gun ends and innocent life. The blame lies with local housing authorities that the feds believe are too inept to spend the money wisely.

Tara Raghuveer :

which used to be a beautiful, dignified place for people to live and still could be, but for the fact that we've completely disinvested from it.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

It seems that you and your colleagues are coming up with this at exactly the right moment when the crisis demands that we do something different. And the Democratic presidential candidates are embracing that housing has to be front and center. How are you feeling about some of the proposals that are out there and what makes the homes guarantee proposal so unique?

Tara Raghuveer :

We released this briefing book which is kind of the summary of our idea around the homes guarantee in the beginning of September. And it was really just a matter of weeks until presidential candidates started sinking their teeth into it. And that was ultimately one of the goals and putting it out there, of course. And so within a number of weeks, we were on the phone with Bernie Sanders campaign. They came to us and they came to the tenants who had been involved in writing the homes guarantee, and they asked us what we wanted. And we said, Well, luckily, we've written it all down. So here it is. And his plan reflects that. The other campaigns as well. But you know, we've spoken to almost every candidate who's running in the democratic field, and each of them not only has a housing platform, but has moved significantly because there is a strong vision within the tenant movement at this point.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

In the homes guarantee proposal, you highlight the problem of bank tenants, what are bank tenants?

Tara Raghuveer :

Homeownership has not been accessible to especially Black and Brown communities for the better part of the last century and beyond. But still, we have to recognize that there are many, many homeowners in the United States, including people of color and working class people, many of them are actually in a deep amount of housing debt. So if we are to build a movement that actually seeks to change the entire idea of housing as a commodity, or housing as a tool for wealth building, we need to stand in radical solidarity with bank tenants who ultimately have more in common with us and other tenants and people experiencing homelessness across the country than they do with a very small number of people who are benefiting from the world as it is.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

I think it's an important and powerful distinction because we are wearing a lot about renters now and we should be we become a renter nation and so many low income people of color, are paying so much for rent in relationship to their income. But these bank tenants, as you now describe them are now in the same circumstance. And we need to be thinking about policies that correct that. Thank you for drawing out that distinction. What's next for the home's guaranteed proposal?

Tara Raghuveer :

We have so much exciting work ahead. So the most important next step in my mind is that we need to go deep, we in 2020 need to focus on building a deep, aligned, massive base of people. And one of the ways that we're going to do that is that we've written a popular education curriculum on racial capitalism and housing policy. And we're going to start deploying that across the country so that we actually have the people power. And we have a counter narrative to the dominant narrative on housing right now, that establishes the simple and perhaps radical idea that we live in this richest country in the history of the world and we can and we must guarantee that everyone has a home

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Tara, It's so inspiring talking to you because you have this ability to go across the full spectrum, understanding historically, how did we get here? What have been our struggles and of those? I think that people who work like this, bring a personal superpower. Tara, what's your superpower?

Tara Raghuveer :

I think I have an undue level of Audacity. I really believe that our people have everything we need to imagine and win this better world. I think it's Audacity. And the other thing that I think about is that I found all these people, put them all in the same room and then just let them do their amazing work.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Tara, thank you for speakingwith us.

Tara Raghuveer :

Thank you so much.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

Tarah Raghuveer is the housing campaign director for people's action. She joined us from a studio in Kansas City, Missouri. Talking with Dominic Walker, I was reminded of Rosa Parks when Park sat down at the front of the bus in 1955. In Montgomery, Alabama, the media portrayed her as an elderly seamstress who was tired and eager to get home. Parks was actually young, a trained activist and part of a movement. She brilliantly found the issue, the symbolism and the moment to take that movement into the stratosphere. Likewise, the moms who moved into the vacant house on Auckland's Magnolia Street, are bringing attention to the housing crisis in so many cities. They're putting a face on homelessness, and they're speaking out about the root causes, including the role of corporate investors who callously treat how thing is just another commodity to buy, hold and flip for a profit. America cannot build its way out of this crisis. Housing must be reimagined as a human right. And that right must be manifest for everyone. I'm inspired to see a bold new housing movement catch fire. Rosa Park said that at the time she was arrested, she didn't know it would become such a big deal. The only thing that made it significant was that masses of people joined in. Radical imagination was produced by forturo Studios for policy link. The Futura studios team includes Marlon Bishop Andreas Caballero, ruxandra, greedy Stephanie lebeau, Julia Caruso, Leah Shaw, Lita Halliwell, and Sam burnitz. The policy link team includes Rachel shingu Glenda Johnson, Fran Smith, Jacob cool kassian and Millie Hawk Daniel. Our theme music was composed by Taka uses our and Alex Sue Gouda. I'm your host Angela Glover Blackwell. Join us again next time. And in the meantime, you can find us online at radical imagination.us. Remember to subscribe and share. Next time on radical imagination, freedom University and underground school for undocumented students banned from Georgia's top public universities.

Unknown Speaker :

I started looking for alternatives and in googling and research I found this school for undocumented students.

Angela Glover Blackwell :

That's next time on radical imagination.