From Homeless to Councilmember: The Woman Who Overcame the Odds to Become One of California’s Most Beloved Politicians

by Xara Aziz
City of Oakland

A then-homeless Oakland mother who was evicted alongside a small group of local mothers to protest unaffordable housing has found herself running for office – and winning.

In an Essence profile, Carrol Fife, said she had no intention of running for office. But all of that changed when she found herself in a standoff with armed officers in riot gear soon after a judge ordered the eviction of Moms 4 Housing, a collective of homeless and marginally housed mothers who occupied a vacant home as a form of demonstration against flipping practices.  

“It was stressful,” Fife told Essense. “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,” adding that when the eviction was carried out, she and her team were met with deputies equipped with AR-15s and handguns.

Fife, alongside Moms 4 Housing cofounder Dominique Walker, said that part of their issue was retelling the narrative as told by corporate investor Wedgewood Properties, which owned the vacant house the moms demonstrated in. 

“Wedgewood has done everything since this group broke into the company’s property and took it over illegally,” Sam Singer, the company’s spokesperson, said. “That didn’t make them happy.” 

“It wasn’t just the opposition in the media,” Fife added. “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.”   

Since then, both Fife and Walker decided to run for local office and won. Fife was elected as a City Councilmember, while Walker serves on the Berkeley Rent Board. Both women have since advocated for affordable housing.

“Though I had never intended to run, I asked all of the moms who lived in West Oakland if they would run for office, and if they would run on the issues of housing and homelessness as the primary platform,” Fife says.

But before becoming a Councilmember, Fife was once a homeless woman. She said her story was a pivotal part of her campaign strategy.

“I’ve always been housing insecure since I’ve been in Oakland.”

She continued with a riveting anecdote. “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.”    

Now that Fife serves her city as a public servant, she said she strives to work to make housing a human right.

“It means that every single person who is a resident of this country would have a safe place to call home,” she says. “They wouldn’t have to worry about eviction, foreclosure or any of the circumstances associated with housing insecurity. We would make sure that buildings were kept up. We would make sure that whether or not you were an elder or a college student or a person with disabilities, you had a place to stay.”  

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