On Thursday, July 16, a little before noon, Essex Property Trust executive John Eudy sent an email to his fellow players in the real estate industry, asking them for campaign contributions — $100 per apartment — to stop Proposition 21. At first glance, there was nothing all that remarkable about the email — just another mid-day solicitation for someone’s money. But then one read to the end, and saw the scratchy signatures of seven men who call themselves the “executive committee” of Californians for Responsible Housing. What was that?
Proposition 21 is a November ballot measure that aims to put limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases in California. It has the support of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and the California Democratic Party, among many other civic leaders, labor unions, and housing justice organizations. Big Real Estate hates the initiative, planning to raise tens of millions to kill it. The leading No on Prop 21 committee out of four No on Prop 21 committees is Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association. Enter Eudy and his crew.
For the first time, the public now knows exactly who’s calling shots, behind the scenes, to stop Prop 21: the executive committee of Californians for Responsible Housing. Its members are major figures within the real estate industry, and so far they’ve raised, through Californians for Responsible Housing, $25.6 million from publicly traded real estate investment trusts and other corporate landlords. From political strategy to TV ad spending, what the executive committee says, goes.
John Eudy (pictured above) is one of the co-chairs of the executive committee. He’s joined by co-chair and Equity Residential executive Barry Altshuler, who’s also board president of the California Apartment Association (CAA). The third co-chair is John Millham, an executive at Prometheus Real Estate Group and a CAA board member. Multi-millionaire landlord Tod Spieker, AvalonBay Communities executive Sean Breslin, California Apartment Association CEO Tom Bannon, and National Multifamily Housing Council executive Jim Lapides round out the executive committee. They all have sordid histories of opposing renter protections — no matter the circumstances.
Spieker, for example, has spent tens out of thousands trying to stop rent control in Mountain View and San Mateo. Bannon and the CAA aggressively fight renter protections all over California, including a recent temporary rent freeze in Santa Ana during the COVID-19 pandemic. As board members of the CAA, Eudy, Altshuler, and Millham have signed off on Bannon’s confrontational approach. And all of them played a major role in defeating Proposition 10, the 2018 ballot measure that attempted to allow local officials throughout California to expand rent control.
To date, Eudy’s Essex Property Trust, founded by billionaire George Marcus, has shelled out $4.7 million to Californians for Responsible Housing, according to state filings. Breslin’s AvalonBay Communities, led by CEO Tim Naughton, has delivered $2.9 million. Altshuler’s Equity Residential, led by co-founder and billionaire Sam Zell, has contributed $3.7 million. In addition, Spieker and Prometheus Real Estate Group, led by billionaire Jackie Safier, have shelled out $509,733 and $666,920, respectively, to Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association.
Big bucks, and Eudy and his fellow members on the executive committee have already spent $1.4 million on high-priced consultants.
What will be laughable to anyone who’s battled these Big Estate Real executives is that they will try to frame Prop 21 as the wrong solution to California’s ongoing housing affordability crisis. Housing justice veterans know better: all Eudy and Marcus, Altshuler and Zell, and Breslin and Naughton care about is protecting their huge profits — made off the backs of California renters — by maintaining their ability to charge outsized rents.
With Big Real Estate’s opposition to Prop 21, it’s all about the profits, stupid.
When Californians see countless TV ads, spewing distortions and political spin, they should remember who’s behind them: Eudy, Altshuler, Millham, Breslin, Spieker, Bannon, and Lapides. These are men — three of whom report to stockholders — who’ve never been interested in lower, more reasonable rents. In fact, it’s been just the opposite. It’s one of the major reasons why California has been mired in a housing affordability crisis. The No on Prop 21 executive committee won’t show TV ads that go into that.