How Councilmember Fife braved homelessness, violence to become one of Oakland’s strongest voices

Dollita Okine January 23, 2024

Carroll Fife was simply a mother seeking security and affordable housing for herself and other Oakland mothers after experiencing homelessness and eviction that nearly turned violent. 

Although Fife’s efforts have brought her to the rank of Councilmember, she and co-founder of Moms 4 Housing Dominique Walker got together to create the movement as a united front to fight for the conditions they were in and the hostility that accompanied them. 

Fife, who has served as a professional nonprofit director, said four separate women had told her that they, too, were suffering from housing insecurity, which sparked the concept for the organization.   

She told Essence, “After the last woman who came into my office to rest on my futon said she attempted to commit suicide because she didn’t have a place to stay, I brought everybody back together. And I said, ‘Listen, this is too much for my heart to bear. I don’t have people. I ain’t got no money, but I know how to organize. And I have networks that will support us.’ That’s where it started.”    

The organization took over a vacant home owned by corporate investor Wedgewood Properties in protest of house flipping and exorbitant housing costs.

However, on January 10, 2020, a judge issued an eviction order, and the following week, representatives from the Alameda County sheriff’s office showed up with AR-15s in tow and drawn handguns to carry out the eviction.

The trailblazer said, “It was stressful. Every single day it was a challenge, because we never knew when the sheriffs would be coming. The night before the eviction occurred, we were debating who would address the media and who would stay in the house.”

She told Essence that after the eviction, the company’s representative, Sam Singer, spread a bad narrative about the group, claiming that “Wedgewood has done everything since this group broke into the company’s property and took it over illegally. That didn’t make them happy.” 

As a result, the residents misinterpreted their motives and began accusing the mothers of “stealing” from the community. Fife recounted, “It wasn’t just the opposition in the media. It was also people in Oakland who were like, ‘You guys can’t be stealing from the community in this way.’ But this home is not owned by the community. It’s owned by a ­multimillion-dollar corporation.”   

Still, the mothers’ goals extended beyond simply living in the house. Standing their ground, the group aimed to bring attention to the bigger picture of a home being viewed as a financial tool rather than a fundamental right.   

The mothers eventually negotiated an agreement with Wedgewood Properties, which sold the property to a nonprofit in May 2020. It is now known as “Mom’s House” and is owned by the Oakland Community Land Trust. It provides transitional accommodation for other mothers and their children.

Fife revealed that the youth in her community pushed her to run for Oakland City Council seat because she had been acting as an organizer in Oakland even before founding the Moms 4 Housing group. 

“I was pushed by my youth, my babies. They were like, ‘Mama Carroll, go forward—we got you.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna do it,’” she recalled. 

She defeated the two-term incumbent, who was her closest opponent, by almost 20 percentage points in November 2020 to win the election, becoming a member of Oakland City Council’s District 3.

As someone who has personally experienced homelessness, Fife is still passionate about making sure that housing is affordable.  

The Moms 4 Housing group continues to organize mothers in Oakland “with the ultimate goal of reclaiming housing for the community from speculators and profiteers,” per the group’s website. 

The group’s work highlights the housing problems in the city. A report by San Francisco Chroncile states that in 2019, the city had a 47% increase in homelessness in just two years.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 23, 2024


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