A new Housing Is A Human Right investigation has found that a group of multi-billion-dollar real estate companies have shelled out millions to the California Apartment Association’s political committees, aiming to upend state and local political races and to kill renter protections. It’s these corporate landlords who call the shots at the CAA. The only question now is will the CAA’s Billionaires Club destroy California?
Over the years, Housing Is A Human Right has published numerous articles about corporate landlords using the California Apartment Association to carry out their dirty work. Most prominently, major real estate companies and the CAA spent a staggering $175.4 million to stop Proposition 10 in 2018 and Proposition 21 in 2020 – the statewide ballot measures would have ended rent control restrictions in California.
As a result of Big Real Estate’s destructive handiwork, California’s housing affordability and homelessness crises have only worsened. Homeless deaths have increased in Los Angeles and other major cities in California, and there are more rent-burdened tenants in the Golden State than anywhere in the United States.
It’s why we recently deemed the California Apartment Association and corporate landlords public enemy number one.
For the new investigation, Housing Is A Human Right examined the make up of the California Apartment Association’s board of directors and Big Real Estate’s campaign contributions to the CAA’s political committees. It’s something the mainstream media have too often ignored, with catastrophic results for middle- and working-class Californians.
Unsurprisingly, the CAA’s board is made up of high-powered executives from major real estate companies, several of whom are among the largest corporate landlords in the U.S. These executives give the marching orders to California Apartment Association CEO Tom Bannon and his staff, including CAA Executive Vice President Debra Carlton, CAA Executive Vice President Joshua Howard, and CAA Senior Vice President Fred Sutton.
In 2023, the board of directors include Barry Altshuler of Equity Residential; Bradley Johnson of Greystar Management Services; Brian Gagan of AvalonBay Communities; John Eudy of Essex Property Trust; Carter Powell of Camden Property Trust; and Christopher Van Ens of UDR. Johnson is the president elect of the CAA board.
With billions in assets, Equity Residential, Greystar, AvalonBay Communities, Essex Property Trust, Camden Property Trust, and UDR are all ranked in the National Multifamily Housing Council’s top 50 largest apartment owners in the U.S.
Executives from other multi-billion-dollar real estate companies also sit on the CAA’s board: Michelle Grande of Irvine Company Apartment Communities; Ronald Granville of Woodmont Real Estate Services; Elif Kimyacioglu of Prime Group; and John Millham of Prometheus Real Estate Group, among others.
Forming a kind of Billionaires Club, these executives direct the California Apartment Association’s unrelenting effort to kill tenant protections at the state and local levels. And their real estate companies fund that anti-renter agenda by delivering big-time cash to the CAA’s political committees.
In 2022, for example, Housing Is A Human Right found that corporate landlords and other landlords sent campaign contributions, through the CAA’s political committees, to local and state politicians in 51 of California’s 58 counties. Big Real Estate shelled out the cash to shape housing policies and to stop pro-renter legislation.
It’s all done to protect and grow the billions in revenue the corporate landlords make off California tenants by charging unfair, excessive rents.
In fact, Big Real Estate will go to any length to grab bigger profits. Essex Property Trust, Camden Property Trust, Greystar, and Equity Residential are major players in the ongoing Realpage Scandal by allegedly working within a cartel of corporate landlords to wildly inflate rents. The scandal has resulted in Congressional members calling for federal investigations and more than 20 federal lawsuits have been filed by tenants in California and other states.
Housing Is A Human Right has now found that between 2019 and 2023, Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, and AvalonBay Communities, among others, have delivered millions in contributions to the California Apartment Association’s four political committees: the CAA Political Action Committee, the CAA Issues Committee, the CAA Independent Expenditure Committee, and the CAA Housing Solutions Committee.
Carrying out a kind of shell game, the CAA regularly moves corporate landlord money from one committee to another, trying to hide the identities of its Big Real Estate contributors.
In 2021 and 2022, for example, Equity Residential delivered $1.4 million to the CAA Independent Expenditure Committee; Essex Property Trust shelled out $1.8 million; AvalonBay Communities handed over $671,033; UDR gave $500,206; and Prime Group delivered $543,505. In 2021, Irvine Company shelled out $210,000 to the CAA Political Action Committee.
The CAA then moved that campaign cash from the Independent Expenditure and Political Action committees to the California Apartment Association Housing Solutions Committee.
In 2021 and 2022, the California Apartment Association Housing Solutions Committee raked in an astounding total of $5,269,750 from the CAA’s Political Action and Independent Expenditure committees.
The CAA Housing Solutions Committee then spent millions to support or oppose the campaigns of numerous politicians in the city and county of Los Angeles, Alameda County, the city and county of San Mateo, and the city of Santa Ana. But the corporate landlords’ names weren’t attached to the political spending – only the name of California Apartment Association Housing Solutions Committee.
The CAA and Big Real Estate have pulled that slick shell game for years, trying to upend the democratic process in California.
Since 2019, Equity Residential has delivered $1,604,074 to the California Apartment Association’s political committees; AvalonBay Communities has shelled out $751,548; Woodmont Real Estate has given $407,438; Essex Property Trust has forked over $2,330,350; Prime Group has contributed $655,913; Camden Property Trust has given $147,275; Irvine Company has delivered $335,510; UDR has shelled out $743,966; and Prometheus Real Estate Group has contributed $350,137. In total, that’s a whopping $7,326,211.
PG&E Corporation, JB Matteson, Frank T. Suryan Jr., Spieker Companies, Sequoia Equities, Sares Regis Operating Company, AIMCO Properties, Griffis Residential, Hudson Pacific Properties, billionaire Geoff Palmer, Jackson Square Properties, Kilroy Realty, General Investment & Development, the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, Greystar Management Services, Windsor Communities, Acacia Capital Corporation, the California Association of Realtors PAC, Holland Development, E & S Management Corporation, Douglas Emmett Properties, R & V Management Company, and other major groups and landlords have also contributed eye-popping cash to the California Apartment Association political committees, adding up to even more millions.
Shocking stuff, but the mainstream media constantly fail to report what Big Real Estate and the California Apartment Association are up to.
The California Apartment Association has also used the real estate industry’s campaign cash to influence state politicians. The result has been that housing justice activists have never been able to reform the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act through legislation in Sacramento. In 1995, Costa-Hawkins created statewide restrictions on local rent control policies.
The inaction by state legislators forced a broad coalition of housing justice groups, social justice organizations, labor unions, and civic leaders to try to end Costa-Hawkins through statewide ballot measures – Proposition 10 in 2018 and Proposition 21 in 2020.
The initiatives were spearheaded by Housing Is A Human Right and its parent organization, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, but the California Apartment Association and corporate landlords killed Prop 10 and Prop 21 through massive, supremely funded misinformation campaigns that confused voters.
Among other corporate landlords, Essex Property Trust shelled out $26.2 million to the No on Prop 10 and No on Prop 21 campaigns sponsored by the California Apartment Association and run by Big Real Estate executives; AvalonBay Communities delivered $17 million; and Equity Residential gave $17.9 million.
Since state politicians still refuse to act, Housing Is A Human Right and AIDS Healthcare Foundation are leading another broad coalition to repeal Costa-Hawkins and expand rent control through a 2024 statewide ballot measure called the Justice for Renters Act.
Already, UNITE HERE Local 11, Veterans’ Voices, Social Security Works, the California Nurses Association, the Pasadena Tenants Union, ADA – Southern California, and labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta have endorsed the initiative.
Rising up to confront Big Real Estate, the coalition refuses to allow the California Apartment Association’s Billionaires Club to destroy California. By expanding rent control, the predatory business practices and runaway greed of corporate landlords will finally be reined in.
(Top picture from left to right: Billionaires Club members Barry Altshuler of Equity Residential, AvalonBay Communities Chairman Tim Naughton, and John Eudy of Essex Property Trust.)