As we head deeper into 2021, renters in California and across the nation should never forget the small but powerful group of corporate landlords who shelled out a staggering $66.5 million to kill the expansion of rent control in the Golden State. Regardless of the financial devastation unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll keep opposing tenant protections — no matter the consequences for the rest of us.
Big Real Estate was the driving force behind the defeat of Proposition 21, the November ballot measure that aimed to expand rent control in California. Overall, the real estate industry spent nearly $100 million to kill Prop 21, including king-sized contributions from Blackstone Group, billionaire Geoffrey Palmer, and millionaire Michael Hayde. In fact, Blackstone (led by billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, pictured above, left), Palmer, and Hayde slyly used a shell committee to funnel contributions to No on Prop 21.
Remember, they opposed Prop 21 while the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic was slamming millions of California renters.
In addition to Schwarzman and his gang, 17 corporate landlords shelled out a whopping $66,505,704 to No on Prop 21: Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association. That was the main No on Prop 21 committee that led Big Real Estate’s charge against the rent control initiative.
In all, according to state filings, the CAA-sponsored committee raised $86,220,388 in campaign cash, and those 17 corporate landlords — Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, among others — delivered an eye-popping 77 percent of that total. Here’s the breakdown.
Top 17 Contributors to No on Prop 21: Californians for Responsible Housing
- Essex Property Trust: $17,356,884
- AvalonBay Community: $12,892,490
- Equity Residential: $12,771,866
- Prometheus Real Estate Group: $4,098,469
- UDR: $3,708,571
- AIMCO: $2,036,900
- Sequoia Equities: $1,821,260
- George M. Marcus (founder of Essex Property Trust): $1,713,000
- General Investment and Development (GID): $1,502,693
- Tod Spieker: $1,290,963
- Invitation Homes: $1,231,290
- R&V Management Corporation: $1,100,000
- Camden Development: $1,082,000
- Jackson Square Properties: $1,061,600
- Sares Regis Group: $978,471
- Woodmont Real Estate Services: $976,447
- Prime Administration: $882,800
Many of these companies — including Essex Property Trust (led by CEO Mike Schall, pictured above, right), Equity Residential (co-founded by billionaire Sam Zell), Sares Regis, AvalonBay Communities, Woodmont Real Estate Services, Tod Spieker, Prime Administration, Prometheus Real Estate Group (led by billionaire CEO Jackie Safier), AIMCO, and Camden — have also shelled out campaign cash to at least one political action committee operated by the California Apartment Association.
CAA, the aggressive landlord lobbying group led by CEO Tom Bannon, drives the real estate industry’s agenda in Sacramento.
In other words, these corporate landlords are not going away — and they’ll continue to fight tenant protections and rent control in the future. Why? Big Real Estate wants to keep taking huge chunks out of renters’ paychecks, and doesn’t want to be regulated in any way, shape, or form. That not only goes for California, but for the entire United States.
The real estate industry has generated massive revenues over the past 10 years by charging excessive rents. According to Zillow, tenants in the U.S. paid landlords a shocking $4.5 trillion in rent between 2010 and 2019. That’s more than the 2018 GDP of Germany — a mind-boggling fortune made off the backs of hard-working renters.
In the meantime, renters in California and throughout the country are struggling mightily to make ends meet, suffering through a devastating housing affordability crisis that’s fueling a worsening homelessness crisis.
That’s become only too clear during the COVID-19 pandemic — since tens of millions of tenants lost work and can’t afford sky-high rents, millions are falling into huge back-rent debt and potentially face eviction. It’s why federal and state politicians have to keep extending eviction moratoriums. If they didn’t, we’d see tens of millions forced into homelessness.
Make no mistake. The runaway greed of Big Real Estate got us into this mess.
So while federal and state politicians must implement short-term solutions to help people keep their homes (and to stay safe and healthy during the pandemic), they must also move on long-term fixes for the housing affordability and homelessness crises. And we must hold politicians accountable.
In California, Housing Is A Human Right, the housing advocacy division of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which helped to spearhead the Yes on Prop 21 campaign, is still pursuing the reform of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. That harmful state law restricts localities from expanding rent control. HHR is also seeking to reform the Ellis Act, which allows landlords and developers to take rent-controlled apartments off the rental housing market — and turn them into luxury housing via condos or boutique hotels. We need to preserve affordable housing, not get rid of it.
But Big Real Estate, with help from the California Apartment Association and Tom Bannon, will fight tooth and nail to stop those much-needed reforms. Essex Property Trust CEO Mike Schall, Equity Residential co-founder Sam Zell, AvalonBay Communities CEO Tim Naughton, and the others will never give an inch, despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of millions of renters.
So always remember those corporate landlords. They drive the agenda in California and other states, and it will take a strong “people power” movement to move politicians into action — and to create not only more fair rents, but also a more healthy and just society. More than ever, that change — putting people over profit — must come.