Outside the real estate industry, most Californians don’t know about Barry Altshuler — and he probably likes it that way. But as president of the California Apartment Association board of directors and executive vice president at Equity Residential, Altshuler is no small potato. In fact, he’s a key leader in Big Real Estate’s multi-million-dollar campaign to kill Proposition 21.
Prop 21 is the statewide ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases, reins in corporate landlord greed, and prevents homelessness. Top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley agree that sensible rent limits are key for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis. It’s why U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the California Democratic Party, the Los Angeles Times, and California’s housing justice movement have thrown their full support behind Prop 21.
Altshuler and other corporate landlords are spending millions to stop the measure. They want to keep charging wildly inflated rents so can keep raking in billions in profits — no matter the human cost.
For more than 20 years, Altshuler has been a top executive at Equity Residential, a publicly traded real estate investment trust based in Chicago and the second largest apartment owner in the U.S. — with 79,200 rental units. Equity Residential is estimated to be worth $30.1 billion, and it’s co-founder, billionaire Sam Zell, is one of the most notorious figures in the real estate industry.
Since the late 1990s, Barry Altshuler has worked for Zell, a man who’s made derogatory statements about women; who was at the center of the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry, costing more than 4,200 people their jobs; who leads a real estate firm known for rent gouging seniors at mobile-home communities; and who uses predatory tactics to force tenants out of rent-regulated apartments so he can dramatically raise rents once they move out. One of Zell’s tenants described the billionaire as a “vulture capitalist unconcerned about actual people.”
Yet Altshuler keeps working for Zell and Equity Residential, squeezing and mistreating tenants in the chase for bigger profits and more riches.
Altshuler is also board president of the California Apartment Association, the landlord lobbying powerhouse. For years, the CAA has constantly, and aggressively, opposed renter protections throughout California as the statewide housing affordability crisis worsened.
The landlord group has engaged, for example, in misinformation campaigns to repeal renter protections in El Cerrito and Mountain View; sponsored the leading campaign committee that stopped Proposition 10, the statewide ballot measure that sought to expand rent control and rein in corporate landlord greed in 2018; and even tried to repeal a temporary rent freeze in Santa Ana during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CAA has been ruthless.
Now Barry Altshuler is one of the top real estate honchos trying to stop Proposition 21. Under Altshuler’s leadership as California Apartment Association board president, the CAA is sponsoring the lead No on Prop 21 committee, which has raised a staggering $41.3 million. Equity Residential, Altshuler’s company, has shelled out $3.7 million.
Altshuler and Equity Residential are key decision makers in the No on 21 campaign. In fact, Altshuler is co-chair of a secretive “executive committee” that’s calling the shots for No on 21 — from approving misleading TV ads to hiring controversial No on 21 spokesman Steve Maviglio.
What’s telling is who Barry Altshuler, Equity Residential, and the California Apartment Association are battling against.
Proposition 21 has been endorsed by longtime fighters of social justice and fairness: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Los Angeles Tenants Union, UNITE HERE! Local 11, National Urban League, and numerous others. They want to stop Big Real Estate’s runaway greed, which has fueled the housing affordability crisis.
The battle between Big Real Estate and the Yes on 21 movement brings to mind the old labor movement song, “Which Side Are You On?” Will Californians choose to be on the side of Barry Altshuler, Equity Residential, and the California Apartment Association? Or will they stand with labor unions, social and housing justice organizations, and longtime fighters for fairness and equality? With the financial devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and millions of Californians struggling to pay the rent, one’s decision has never been more important.
Patrick Range McDonald is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.