A vacant home with two huge banners on the side, one reads "liberate housing" and the other says "learn how at housethebay.org/take-it"
The May Day action took place in front of this vacant, speculator-owned home in West Oakland which was opened up and turned into an art installation about liberating housing and ending houselessness. (Brooke Anderson) 

In celebration of May Day, housing activists in Oakland staged a demonstration of the power of communities to house each other. A march wound through the streets of West Oakland on May 1, and ended at a speculator-owned vacant property that organizers had opened up, and turned into an art installation and a home. Organizers said they hope to inspire community members to take action and open up vacant properties all over the city. They also highlighted the failure of politicians and corporations to address the housing crisis.Outside the house was a U-Haul set up like the inside of a living room, with furniture, artwork, and a carpet, all created with materials salvaged from street corners where folks lost their housing. There was also a visual representation of the process of opening vacant properties, with replacements locks, a PG&E bill and a pile of zines with information on how to create housing. 

House the Bay made headlines last May Day when they moved two homeless women into a vacant property in the Castro, and were forced out by dozens of police wearing “Thin Blue Line” masks, a racist symbol demonstrating opposition to Black Lives Matter. The work of moving homeless people into vacant properties remains at the center of the organization’s work.

A pile of zines with the words "if it's vacant, take it!" written on the front.
A table of zines at the event provided information and resources for opening up vacant properties. (Brooke Anderson)

“If the City of Oakland won’t provide housing to our unhoused neighbors, it’s up to us to do it ourselves,” said Ari Cowan, an organizer with House the Bay. 

There are four empty units for every homeless person in the Bay Area, yet the City of Oakland has left over 4,000 unhoused residents to weather the pandemic outside. Corporate developers and real estate speculators continue to drive up housing costs, resulting in tenants being discriminated against and harassed in their homes, and far too often pushed out of the bay area or onto the streets. This action targeted a known slumlord, SMC Property Management Company, which is also the target of a rent strike led by a union of their tenants. 

The demonstration was joined by Oakland’s May Day caravan, and featured speakers from many community organizations.

For more information about this action, visit housethebay.org.

A Black woman speaks into a microphone in front of the vacant home. She is wearing a surgical mask. People can be seen listening to her speak in the background. In the deeper background, the house can be seen with banners reading "if it's vacant take it" and "liberate housing"
Barbara Doss speaks at the demonstration. Doss is the mother of Dujuan Armstrong, killed by guards inside Santa Rita Jail. She made the connection between policing, housing, and state violence. (Brooke Anderson)

Suzanne Q Waters is a writer and activist who lives in the East Bay. This article originally appeared in Street Sheet, San Francisco’s street newspaper.