We are fed up with the real estate industry's control of California politicians. At a time when tenants are struggling with surging rents, uninhabitable living conditions, and unfair evictions, California politicians are less and less responsive to the needs of tenants. Even the most modest legislation to stop security deposit theft and plug up eviction loopholes have been defeated thanks to real estate industry campaign donations and high-priced lobbyists.
Tenants have not sat idly by during the affordable housing crisis, even when the most recent campaign to eliminate statewide loopholes in rent control, Proposition 10, ended in defeat. However, this defeat was not due to lack of organizing on the part of tenants. Tenants Together, ACCE, and the Housing Now! Coalition played a huge role in mobilizing statewide movement for Prop 10. In fact, dozens of tenant organizations and hundreds more volunteers canvassed thousands of households to register renters, share critical information about the rental housing crisis, and build support for tenants rights.
Rather, California's growing tenant movement scared the real estate industry as we organize and grow stronger. By November 2018, PAC’s representing the California Apartment Association, the California Rental Housing Association, and other corporate landlord interests invested over $70 million in the No on 10 campaign. Corporations known for rent-gouging and retaliatory eviction-- like Blackstone Properties and Essex Properties -- were among the biggest funders pushing landlord lies. With over two times more funding than tenants, the real estate industry single handedly corrupted the democratic ballot initiative process to protect their private interests. And they will do it again.
The financial and political power of the real estate industry also poses a threat to tenants in their local elections. In the last three years, California cities are seeing a resurgence of powerful local tenants unions that have won multiple victories throughout the state. In 2016, organizers in Richmond and Mountain View campaigned for and won rent control for the first time in forty years. In Union City and San Jose, organizers pressured city council to protect tenants from arbitrary eviction through Just Cause protections. And other dynamic approaches are being tried, such as a right to counsel law passed by the voters in San Francisco in June 2018.
During such a vital movement moment for tenants, the corporate landlord lobby has hidden itself within various local groups against rent control. For instance, in 2018 the California Association of Realtors crowned itself as the largest donor to Santa Cruz’s local anti-rent control organization with a $200,000 donation, while their PAC donated an additional $20,000. The CAA itself had over $352,000 cash on hand to assist in the anti-rent control campaign. With a total of over $750,000 against rent control, the local and statewide landlord lobby dwarfed the grassroots tenant campaign, whose budget ran little more than $38,000. This scenario has replicated itself several times before in Pacifica, Santa Rosa, and Alameda, and it is likely to happen again.
But while the real estate industry works hard, tenants work harder. Tenants and their advocates are changing the narrative when it comes to housing as a human right. We are continuing our efforts to repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, among other loopholes to local rent control policies. We are still going to Sacramento, where our legislators are feeling the growing strength of California's tenant movement. We know that California will not build its way out of this affordable housing crisis, and we need your support now more than ever to reach our legislators in Sacramento and in hundreds of city councils throughout the state. Organizers navigate a political environment where many tenants make too little money to donate, work too many jobs to canvass, and are outright exhausted from fighting for survival. For donors, your investment comes at a critical time as the real estate industry spends millions to attempt to stop the efforts of grassroots movement building. We won’t outspend them but strategic investment in strong, people-powered local efforts will make a critical difference. While money can’t buy us the future that we want, it will help the people who are organizing every day for a future where all Californians have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing.