How to Build an Affordable America

“Instead of trying to compete with the developer/builder types with capital and resources, we looked for opportunities that were cheap and economical.”

Carroll Fife, head of the Oakland chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), hit a major turning point last fall. A homeless mother who’d sought help from her organization had just attempted suicide, while up to a quarter of her staff were themselves facing homelessness. For Fife, the complete erosion of affordable housing in the Bay Area, and the despair that came with it, demanded a new, bolder course of action.

“I said, Look, I don’t have any money. I don’t have friends who own apartment buildings or houses. I really don’t have anything to give other than my networks and my ability to organize,” Fife recalled. “So we took a house that was speculatorowned and lying vacant in the neighborhood for years.”

That November, four homeless mothers, including two who worked at ACCE with Fife, moved into 2928 Magnolia Street in West Oakland and—in plain view of neighbors—sought to prove that they could revive a

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