Tenants rights activists deliver a letter to Citibank branch employee in downtown Oakland, asking the bank to sell foreclosed property at a reduced rates to community land trusts. (Photo by Scott Morris)

Housing affordability activists last Friday protested at bank branches in Oakland to call on the institutions to sell foreclosed properties to community land trusts at reduced prices and play a greater role in creating more affordable housing in California.

A group of about 10 activists delivered letters to the heads of Chase and Citibank at branches in downtown Oakland.

They demanded a response from employees there to prove the message had been delivered and staged a brief protest in a Chase bank when a security guard asked them to leave without receiving an answer.

The protesters chanted “Chase got bailed out, we got sold out,” and talked with customers in line. A security guard called police, but the activists left before officers arrived.

The letter asked for a meeting between tenant leaders and executives at the bank to help implement a policy change to sell foreclosed properties to land trusts, nonprofit organizations that manage land and housing to keep it affordable.

They argued that the banks seized equity from residents of Oakland, particularly black residents, during the foreclosure crisis a decade ago and that the community is still suffering from its effects.

“Really this is a crisis of economics and capitalism and the fact that wages haven’t kept pace with inflation over the last several decades,” said Carroll Fife of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a tenants’ rights organization.

“There are no jobs that actually pay a living wage to pay these ridiculously inflated costs of housing,” she said.

One of the protesters on Friday was Dominique Walker, an Oakland native who was homeless but earlier this week moved into a vacant West Oakland house owned by real estate investment firm Wedgewood Inc.

She and her two children along with another family moved in on Nov. 18 and formed the group Moms for Housing, calling for more vacant properties to be used to house homeless people.

So far, she said that things have been going well, that they’ve been able to connect utilities, and neighbors have been supportive of them.

“Our goal is to reclaim the property owned by speculators into the hands of the community,” Walker said. “We’re demanding that they give some of that money and land back in the hands of the community.”

The protests at the bank were part of a planned week of actions by tenants advocacy groups.