02.13.14 - Dozens of people gathered throughout the day on Tuesday, February 11th, in front of what seemed to be a derelict house at 625 23rd St, on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland. At 9am, a banner was unfurled from the second floor that read “They Can’t Evict Us All.” People brought food and coffee to share with residents and other supporters, and a pleasant attitude permeated the street into the afternoon. Radicals and activists mingled with the residents and their friends who had come to support them. Sheriffs drove by during the day, but made no action to evict the house.
Update 2/15: The residents and neighbors of 625 23rd St have informed the author they are less confident about REO Homes LLC or one of their shell companies being the new owner of the house, the article has been edited to reflect that.
The history of the multi-unit building is complicated, in a grey area between a squat and rental. Though one might associate squats with hubs of anarchist activity, the family living in this house has no political agenda. Instead, as one tenant describes, the landlord simply stopped showing up over the last three years to collect rent. But last fall, they find out the landlord had sold the property from under them, and the new owner is intent on getting them out.
Even before selling it, the previous landlord made multiple attempts to coerce the occupants off the property. One of the residents pointed to where the wires connecting the house to the power lines were physically cut off, which he said happened last summer. A few months after that incident, the fence in front of the driveway was removed. More recently, the two upstairs units were sealed off, followed by one of the bottom units. Then just last month, the front door was removed. Harassment was not exclusive to the owners, one neighbor claims the police often try to intimidate the people living there. The day before their date of eviction, cop cars lined the street for hours, after workers who were coming to gut their building under the guise of repairs were robbed at gunpoint in the middle of the afternoon.
The racialized nature of these events is unavoidable. The family living at 625 is the last black family on the block. 23rd Street between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Northgate Ave is a hotly contested area, right between rapidly gentrifying KONO and Uptown, and also sitting on the edge of west Oakland. The group who bought their house, 302EOF LLC, is one of several ominous limited-liability companies that have been buying numerous properties across the city, often flipping them for profit soon after. Along with bigger players such as REO Homes LLC (which owns another house on the block) and Community Fund LLC, this has been a driving force for gentrification. Investment groups and prospectors like these have been so successful in Oakland and elsewhere because they can pay cash for properties, so sellers don’t have to worry about loans from potential new homeowners.
Beyond 625, the sidewalk opposite the house has long featured a homeless encampment, sometimes moving around the corner but usually not for too long. However, early last year, some of the new neighbors living in recently remodeled homes made their concerns about the homeless loud and clear. Shortly thereafter, the Oakland Police Department raided the camp on April 24th (the same day they joined the FBI to raid ACORN) and again on May 14th. Since then, Sullivan Management Company (SMC) has hired private security to watch and surveil the block, after a neighbor was mugged outside their home. These private security officers have also taken it upon themselves to harass not only the homeless, but also people living at 625. SMC is a property management group that run by Neill Sullivan, who also happens to be President of REO Homes LLC. Despite complaints from multiple residents on the block, private security still drops by multiple times a night.
While residents and supporters have no fantasies of countering the eviction permanently, they are determined to keep their homes for as long as possible.