Outside the real estate industry, most Californians have never heard of Barry Altshuler, and he probably likes it that way. But as president of the California Apartment Association board of directors and executive vice president at Equity Residential, Altshuler is no small potato. In fact, he’s a key leader in Big Real Estate’s multi-million-dollar push to stop rent control in California.
For more than 20 years, Altshuler has been a top executive at Equity Residential, a real estate investment trust (REIT) based in Chicago and the second largest apartment owner in the U.S. — with 79,200 rental units. Equity Residential is estimated to be worth $30.1 billion, and it’s co-founder, billionaire Sam Zell, is one of the most notorious figures in the real estate industry.
Since the late 1990s, Barry Altshuler has worked for Zell, a man who’s made derogatory statements about women; who was at the center of the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry, costing more than 4,200 people their jobs; who leads a real estate firm known for rent gouging seniors at mobile-home communities, and who uses predatory tactics to force tenants out of rent-regulated apartments so he can dramatically raise rents once they move out. One of Zell’s tenants described the billionaire as a “vulture capitalist unconcerned about actual people.”
Yet Altshuler keeps working for Zell and Equity Residential, squeezing and mistreating tenants in the chase for more profits and more riches.
Altshuler has also been a major figure within the California Apartment Association, calling the shots as president of the CAA board of directors. For years, the CAA, the most powerful landlord lobbying group in California, has constantly, and aggressively, opposed renter protections as the state’s housing affordability crisis has worsened.
With California Apartment Association CEO Tom Bannon and Barry Altshuler at the helm, the landlord group has engaged in misinformation campaigns to repeal renter protections in El Cerrito and Mountain View; sponsored the leading campaign committee that stopped Proposition 10, the 2018 statewide ballot measure that sought to expand rent control; championed a recent California State Assembly bill that attempted to silence the housing advocacy work of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, but ultimately went down in defeat; and even tried to repeal a temporary rent freeze in Santa Ana during the COVID-19 pandemic. Altshuler and Bannon have been ruthless.
Now Barry Altshuler is one of the top real estate honchos trying to stop Proposition 21, the November ballot measure that again seeks to expand rent control in California. Under Altshuler’s leadership as California Apartment Association board president, the CAA is sponsoring the key campaign committee to oppose Prop 21 — so far, the landlord group has raised $15.1 million. Equity Residential, Altshuler’s company, has chipped in a whopping $2.2 million to that effort. Altshuler and Equity Residential are clearly among the key decision makers in the No on 21 camp — and they don’t want to fix a broken rental housing market that’s rigged in their favor, generating billions in profits from unfair, sky-high rents.
What’s telling is who Barry Altshuler, Equity Residential, and the California Apartment Association are battling against. Proposition 21 has been endorsed by longtime fighters of social justice and fairness: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Rev. Al Sharpton, ACCE, Los Angeles Tenants Union, UNITE HERE! Local 11, National Urban League, National Lawyers Guild, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and numerous others. Altshuler, Equity Residential, and the CAA represent Big Real Estate. The endorsers of Prop 21 represent hard-working Californians, who spend huge chunks of their paychecks on sky-rocketing, unsustainable rents.
The battle between Big Real Estate and California’s rent control movement brings to mind the old labor movement song, “Which Side Are You On?” Will Californians choose to be on the side of Barry Altshuler, Equity Residential, and the California Apartment Association? Or will they stand with labor unions, social and housing justice organizations, and longtime fighters for fairness and equality? With the financial devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and millions of Californians struggling to pay the rent, one’s decision has never been more important.