(UPDATE, 10/22: Essex Property Trust recently contributed another $7.5 million to the No on Prop 21 campaign, which is reflected in this story.)
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and California’s housing affordability crisis worsens, Essex Property Trust — a publicly traded real estate investment trust or REIT — is spearheading Wall Street’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.
The need for stable, affordable housing has only taken on added urgency because of the COVID-19 pandemic — people must have shelter to stay safe and healthy.
Wall Street landlords such as Blackstone Group, Equity Residential, and AvalonBay Communities are shelling out millions to kill Prop 21. But Essex Property Trust, based in San Mateo and led by CEO Mike Schall (pictured above), is the leading contributor, delivering a staggering $15,013,300 to No on Prop 21: Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association.
Essex Property Trust and Schall have been deeply involved in the No on 21 campaign — it was also a major player in opposing California’s Proposition 10, which sought to repeal statewide rent control restrictions in 2018. In addition to shelling out king-sized cash, Essex Property Trust executive John Eudy is co-chair of a secretive “executive committee” that calls the shots for Californians for Responsible Housing.
Essex Property Trust is the tenth largest apartment owner in the U.S. — with more than 60,000 units and a worth of $25 billion. The vast majority of those apartments are located in the Bay Area and Southern California. The Wall Street landlord has been known to slam seniors with huge rent increases and improperly increase rents and allow substandard living conditions. Essex Property Trust was also ranked the 17th worst REIT for gender inequity on its board of directors, according to a Wells Fargo report.
Essex Property Trust and other Wall Street landlords are not only leading the attack against Prop 21, but also against California renters, who desperately need the protections that Prop 21 gives them. For these real estate titans, raking in bigger profits is the only thing that matters — no matter the human cost.
In the end, California voters must decide who they want to stand with. Essex Property Trust and other corporate landlords who are bankrolling No on Prop 21? Or middle- and working-class Californians who would greatly benefit from Prop 21? For many, the choice is a no-brainer: YES on Prop 21.
Patrick Range McDonald is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.