West Oakland: From Black families to tech geeks
Marilyn Williams in front of the mural of neighbor and slain father Sedric Gadson. Senay Dennis, the photographer of this photo, also painted the mural.
Homeowner turned Renter
Marilyn Williams moved to West Oakland in 1983, and she's never left.
Williams takes me on a driving tour, starting with her block. She points to a row of century-old Victorians and interrupts herself, realizing she’s made a mistake.
“My house was built – look I’m still calling it my house. I’m so silly!”
It’s a “silly” mistake because Williams doesn’t own this white duplex anymore. She just rents the ground floor.
In 2010, at the exact same time banks took a zero tolerance approach to anyone falling behind on their mortgage, Williams fell behind. She was getting a divorce and lost her husband’s income.
“It wasn’t like 'Oh, I don’t have the money, I won’t pay anything,’” she says. “I started making half-payments.”
In just a few months, her house went on short sale and sold for about one-third the price she’d bought it for.
At that rate, she could’ve afforded to keep the home. But her bank wouldn’t write down her principal because the investors who owned the loan hadn’t authorized that.
Now sixty years old, Williams sometimes forgets she’s become a tenant like so many others and she can’t leave this home to her daughters.
At least, Williams says, “They’ve never not had a roof over their heads.”