Mon, Jul

Corporate Landlords Contribute $20.9 Million to Kill Rent Control Expansion in California


HOUSING - A powerful, deep-pocketed group of 11 corporate landlords has contributed a total of $20.9 million to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee to kill the expansion of rent control in California. Big Real Estate’s millions also fund a disturbing ballot measure to stop AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s housing advocacy work on rent control. Activists expect corporate landlords to spend at least $100 million before the November election.

Last month, Housing Is A Human Right broke the story that 10 of the largest corporate landlords in the United States have shelled out $13,132,637 to stop the Justice for Renters Act — and nine of those ten have contributed $13,123,496 to pass Protect Patients Now. 

The Justice for Renters Act, sponsored by Housing Is A Human Right and its parent organization, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is a November ballot measure that will end statewide rent control restrictions, allowing cities to expand rent regulations. A broad coalition of housing justice groups, labor unions, social justice groups, and civic leaders, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, supports the Justice for Renters Act.

Protect Patients Now, sponsored by the corporate landlord lobbying group California Apartment Association, is also a November ballot measure, but it aims to stop AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s housing advocacy work, which includes pushing forward tenant-protection ballot measures. Corporate landlords, who are financing Protect Patients Now, essentially want to stop AHF’s participation in the democratic process. 

Activists are also concerned that other industries will take a cue from Protect Patients Now and bankroll their own ballot measures in California and other states to stop the advocacy work of labor unions and grassroots organizations.

Housing Is A Human Right has now found that 11 corporate landlords, nine of whom are the largest corporate landlords in the country, have shelled out $20,924,876 to kill the Justice for Renters Act and to pass Protect Patients Now, according to state campaign filings

GID, the seventeenth largest corporate landlord in the U.S., has contributed $2,022 to Californians for Affordable Housing, another No on Justice for Renters Act committee. That cash was delivered through GID’s in-house property management division, Windsor Property Management Company. The sleight of hand by GID is typical of Big Real Estate’s efforts to trick and confuse voters – the other corporate landlords are also using sneaky moves with their campaign contributions.

Carrying out a kind of shell game, the 11 corporate landlords first send contributions to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee. The California Apartment Association then moves that cash to Californians for Responsible Housing (No on Justice for Renters Act) and Protect Patients Now. So it looks as if the California Apartment Association Issues Committee is contributing to Californians for Responsible Housing and Protect Patients Now, not the corporate landlords.

The shell game is an attempt by corporate landlords to avoid public scrutiny and the public relations disaster of trying to silence AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a longtime HIV/AIDS medical-care provider that has saved millions of lives in South Africa, Mexico, India, the United States, and 42 other nations.  AHF was founded, in 1987, as a housing provider for terminally ill AIDS patients during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and then went back to its housing roots in 2017 when AHF clients and staff were increasingly impacted by California’s housing affordability crisis.

In total, the California Apartment Association Issues Committee has raised $28,991,907, according to state filings. Seventy-two percent of that cash has come from the 11 corporate landlords: Greystar, AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, The Related Companies, Essex Property Trust, UDR, Camden Property Trust, MG Properties, AIR Communities, Prometheus Real Estate Group, and R & V Management.

Greystar, Equity Residential, Essex Property Trust, UDR, and Camden Property Trust are all mired in the ongoing RealPage scandal, which has triggered state and federal investigations and lawsuits. In 2022, ProPublica found that a cartel of corporate landlords, including Greystar, Camden Property Trust, and crew, used a RealPage software program to collude and wildly inflate rents in California and other states. The Department of Justice is investigating RealPage and the cartel.

For their campaigns in California, Big Real Estate and the California Apartment Association have used their millions to hire high-priced campaign consultants such as Ace Smith, Jim DeBoo, and Nathan Click – all of whom are connected to Gov. Gavin Newsom – to work for Californians for Responsible Housing and Protect Patients Now.

Corporate landlords have much on the line. For decades, they’ve been able to charge higher and higher rents, year after year, generating tens of billions in revenue in California. In 2019, for example, Los Angeles tenants paid landlords a whopping $39.1 billion in rent. Only New York City renters paid more to landlords that year.

But once the Justice for Renters Act passes, and cities start to expand rent control policies, corporate landlords will no longer be allowed to charge excessive rents. So killing the November ballot measure is a top priority for Big Real Estate. Corporate landlords, many of whom operate in multiple cities across the country, are also concerned that a pro-rent control victory in California will trigger rent control battles in other states.

A growing rent control movement isn’t surprising. Activists have said for years that corporate landlords’ greed-driven agenda has fueled the housing affordability crisis in California and across the nation, which has worsened homelessness. Voters are now catching up to that fact, and increasingly want politicians to pass rent regulations. Based on years of experience working on housing issues, activists say rent control is the only way to rein in the predatory practices of Big Real Estate.

(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. Follow Housing Is A Human Right on Facebook and X.)