15
Sat, Jun

Nation’s Largest Corporate Landlords are Banding Together to Kill Rent Control Measure in California

IMPORTANT READS

THE FIX IS IN - In an exclusive investigation, Housing Is A Human Right has found that 10 of the largest corporate landlords in the United States are banding together to stop a pro-rent control ballot measure in California, shelling out millions in campaign contributions. The statewide initiative, called the Justice for Renters Act, allows cities to expand rent regulations. Corporate landlords are worried that the passage of the measure will stop their ability to charge higher and higher rents, year after year, impacting their already outsized profits.

This year, a broad coalition of housing justice groups, social justice organizations, labor unions, and civic leaders are urging Californians to vote “yes” for the Justice for Renters Act. The November ballot measure ends statewide rent control restrictions and allows local elected officials to expand rent control policies. Housing Is A Human Right and its parent organization, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, are sponsoring the initiative.

Housing justice activists believe the expansion of rent control in California is needed more than ever. Recently, Eviction Lab, the prestigious research institute at Princeton University, found that unaffordable rents are linked to higher mortality rates, and a UC San Francisco study revealed that excessive rents are fueling the homelessness crisis. At the same time, the number  of homeless deaths in California and across the country have only increased, according to The Guardian.

In response, Housing Is A Human Right and other housing activists have advocated for a multi-pronged approach called the “3 Ps”: protect tenants through rent control and other renter rights; preserve existing affordable housing, not demolish it to make way for luxury housing few people can afford; and produce new affordable and homeless housing.

To urgently help middle- and working-class tenants facing the prospect of homelessness, rent control is a key tool. Researchers at the University of Southern California and UC Berkeley, as well as top economists who sent a letter to the Biden administration, found that rent control will quickly stabilize the housing affordability crisis, preventing people from living on the streets.

Rent control is also the only way to rein in predatory landlords, who have charged unfair, excessive rents for years. Between 2010 and 2019, Zillow found that U.S. renters paid a staggering $4.5 trillion to landlords – a figure higher than the 2018 GDP of Germany. 

California landlords, including numerous corporate landlords, were especially flush with cash: in 2019, Los Angeles tenants paid $39.1 billion to landlords, San Franciscans handed over $16.4 billion, San Diego tenants shelled out $10.3 billion, and Riverside residents paid $7.4 billion. In addition, San Jose and Sacramento tenants handed over $6.5 billion and $4.8 billion, respectively. At the same time, California’s housing affordability and homelessness crises only worsened.

The nation’s largest corporate landlords want to be able to keep charging skyrocketing rents so they can continue to rake in billions. Examining state campaign filings and the National Multifamily Housing Council Top 50 List of Largest Apartment Owners, Housing Is A Human Right found that 10 of the largest corporate landlords in the U.S. are banding together and shelling out millions in campaign cash to stop the Justice for Renters Act. 

Greystar, based in South Carolina, is the largest corporate landlord in the country, according to the NMHC, and has contributed to both the California Apartment Association Issues Committee and Californians for Affordable Housing. Both political committees are connected to the No on Justice for Renters campaign.

Greystar has curiously shelled out small contributions to Californians for Affordable Housing totaling $7,119. The corporate landlord has also sent $50,000 to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee, which then carries out a shell game by moving real estate money to Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association. That committee is leading the No on Justice for Renters campaign. 

The California Apartment Association Issues Committee also contributes to Protect Patients Now sponsored by the California Apartment Association. That committee is moving forward with a controversial, possibly illegal, ballot measure that would stop AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s advocacy work on housing justice issues and rent control.

So corporate landlords and their lobbying group, the California Apartment Association, are not only working to stop the Justice for Renters Act, they’re also funding the effort to kill AHF’s ongoing efforts to expand rent control and other tenants protections. The California Apartment Association, whose board of directors is packed with Big Real Estate executives, has a long, sordid history of killing tenant protections all over the state.

AvalonBay Communities is the fifth largest corporate landlord in the country. So far, it has delivered $1.4 million to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee, which then sends the cash to Californians for Responsible Housing (No on Justice for Renters) and Protect Patients Now (the Big Real Estate measure that aims to kill AHF’s work on rent control).

Equity Residential is the nation’s sixth largest corporate landlord. It has shelled out $2.1 million to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee, according to state filings.

To round out Housing Is A Human Right’s findings, The Related Companies, the tenth largest corporate landlord in the country, has delivered $249,900 to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee; Essex Property Trust, the thirteenth largest corporate landlord, has contributed a whopping $5.6 million; UDR, the fourteenth largest corporate landlord, has shelled out $2.9 million; Camden Property Trust, the fifteenth largest corporate landlord, has handed over $108,050; and GID, the seventeenth largest landlord, has also curiously given small contributions to Californians for Affordable Housing totaling $2,022.

In addition, MG Properties, the forty-second largest corporate landlord, has forked over $303,091 to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee and AIR Communities, the forty-sixth largest corporate landlord, has delivered $412,475.

In total, the 10 corporate landlords have shelled out $13,132,637 to kill the Justice for Renters Act, with GID's $2,022 contribution and Greystar's $7,119 contribution only earmarked for Californians for Affordable Housing. Nine of the 10 corporate landlords have delivered $13,123,496 to stop AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s work to expand rent control and pass other tenant protections.

That cash helps pay for such political strategists as Bearstar Strategies, Nathan Click, The Messina Group, and DeBoo Communications, among others. Activists also expect those millions to fund a massive misinformation campaign to trick and confuse California voters.

Greystar, AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, Essex Property Trust, Camden Property Trust, and UDR are all mired in the ongoing RealPage Scandal, which has sparked state and federal investigations as well as federal lawsuits. ProPublica found that a cartel of corporate landlords used a RealPage software program to work together to wildly inflate rents in states across the country, including California. Greystar, AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, Essex Property Trust, Camden Property Trust, and UDR are among the corporate landlords that have been sued or investigated.

But Californians have the power to end the predatory business tactics of the nation’s largest corporate landlords – by voting “yes” for the Justice for Renters Act and voting “no” for Protect Patients Now. Unless the corporate landlords try to pull some other underhanded move, they can’t stop Californians from voting.

Follow Housing Is A Human Right on Facebook and Twitter.

(Patrick Range McDonald, author and journalist, Best Activism Journalism: Los Angeles Press Club, Journalist of the Year: Los Angeles Press Club, Public Service Award: Association of Alternative Newsmedia, and a contributor to CityWatch.)

Get The News In Your Email Inbox Mondays & Thursdays