HOUSING - In 2022, controversial corporate landlords Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, and AvalonBay Communities quietly contributed massive sums to a California Apartment Association political committee, which then delivered $125,000 to an anti-rent control campaign in Pasadena. The real estate companies were trying to avoid public scrutiny by using the CAA to do its dirty work. It’s yet another example of Big Real Estate tapping the California Apartment Association to carry out its anti-tenant, greed-driven agenda.
The California Apartment Association, the state’s powerful landlord lobbying organization, has a long history of using deceit and strong-arm tactics on the behalf of real estate companies.
In 2020, Housing Is A Human Right exposed the CAA’s handiwork in the article “Tom Bannon and California Apartment Association Take No Prisoners to Stop Renter Protections,” explaining how the landlord lobbying group operates throughout the state to kill rent control and other tenant rights.
In 2021, Housing Is A Human Right revealed in a special report that corporate landlords use the California Apartment Association’s political committees to funnel campaign contributions to local and state politicians, attempting to curry favor with elected officials and stop pro-tenant legislation.
The special report notes: “Housing Is A Human Right pored over state campaign contribution filings of the California Apartment Association’s four political committees. We reveal, perhaps for the first time, that the California Apartment Association shells out campaign cash to politicians on the city, county, and state levels and that several of the nation’s largest corporate landlords use the California Apartment Association as a middle-man to deliver campaign contributions. We also found that the CAA has sent campaign checks to state elected officials and political committees in 51 out of California’s 58 counties.
“With the CAA and Big Real Estate influencing elected officials at every level of government, California’s 17 million renters, who need strong tenant protections against corporate landlords’ predatory practices, are suffering the bad consequences.”
Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, and Equity Residential have been especially eager to use the California Apartment Association.
The real estate companies were among the top contributors to political committees sponsored by the California Apartment Association that successfully killed Proposition 10, in 2018, and Proposition 21, in 2020. Both measures attempted to change statewide rent control restrictions in California, which would have allowed local officials to rein in corporate landlord greed through updated rent control policies.
Big Real Estate spent $175.4 million in campaign cash to defeat Prop 10 and Prop 21, with Essex Property Trust delivering a total of $26.2 million, AvalonBay Communities shelling out $17 million, and Equity Residential contributing $17.9 million.
And, of course, Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, and Equity Residential used the California Apartment Association to try to stop the 2022 rent control ballot measure in Pasadena.
Essex Property Trust and AvalonBay Communities delivered $25,000 each to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee in October 2022 and Equity Residential shelled out $30,000 in September, according to state filings. The California Apartment Association Issues Committee then sent three contributions, totaling $125,000, between September 30, 2022, and October 31, 2022, to the anti-rent control campaign in Pasadena, state records reveal.
That campaign, though, failed to kill the rent control initiative. Pasadena voters approved the measure in November 2022.
Given their ugly track records, it’s no surprise that Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, and Equity Residential are now major players in the unfolding RealPage scandal.
RealPage, a Big Tech firm based in Texas, created a software program that helps a cartel of corporate landlords to coordinate pricing and wildly inflate rents for obscene profits – no matter who gets hurt. Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, and Equity Residential are clients of RealPage.
ProPublica broke the story in October 2022, and Congressional members have since called for federal investigations. More than 20 federal lawsuits have now been filed against RealPage and its corporate clients, including Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, and Equity Residential. Four of those federal lawsuits were filed by California tenants.
“By RealPage’s own admission,” ProPublica reported, “its [software] algorithm is helping drive rents higher” in the United States.
In other words, RealPage, Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, and Equity Residential are fueling the nationwide housing affordability crisis.
No wonder the corporate landlords use the California Apartment Association to stay out of the limelight.
California housing justice activists expect Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, and the California Apartment Association to carry out more underhanded schemes to stop the 2024 Justice for Renters Act, a ballot measure that repeals statewide rent control restrictions in California. Housing Is A Human Right and its parent organization, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, are the main sponsors of the Justice for Renters Act. It’s only a matter of time that Big Real Estate will tap the California Apartment Association to smear HHR and AHF and try to confuse California voters.
(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.)