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News + PoliticsHousingThe money trail: How big landlords are trying to undermine the state...

The money trail: How big landlords are trying to undermine the state rent control initiative

It's not enough to seek to defeat the Costa-Hawkins repeal; Big Real Estate wants to stop the measure's sponsor from ever doing this again.


The Board of Supes continued a vote on a statewide rent-control measure Tuesday because Sup. Ahsha Safai, a likely supporter, left the meeting early. It will be back July 2.

In the meantime, it’s worth looking at how the big landlord lobby is organizing against the measure—and trying to stop its sponsor from funding future pro-tenant legislation.

It’s a trail of big money and front groups.

Under the thumb of the landlord lobby, the Legislature wouldn’t repeal Costa-Hawkins. Now the landlords are trying to stop the voters from doing it. Housing Rights Committee photo via Twitter

Let’s start with the California Apartment Association Issues Committee. You can see its disclosure forms here. The group collected almost $3 million in just the first month of 2024, spent $3.5 million, and still had $3.3 million in the bank.

The money comes almost entirely from large landlords and developers (except for a $150,000 contribution from PG&E). There are no limits on donations to the PAC, so some of the property owners have given more than half a million dollars.

The landlord PAC has donated more than $3 million to a group called Californians for Responsible housing, which is opposing the statewide ballot measure that would allow effective rent control in California cities.

The money has gone to a dizzying array of campaign consultants, including both Democrats and Republicans, who are working to defeat the measure.

And more, far more, tens of millions more, is on the way.

But that’s just Part One.

Since the state Legislature is controlled by the landlord lobby, tenant groups have been unable to get Costa Hawkins, or the Ellis Act, repealed, even with Democrats dominating the entire state government.

So the only way to get around the landlord lock on the Legislature is the initiative process, which was designed exactly for this purpose.

But it’s really expensive to run a statewide initiative campaign. Just collecting the signatures to get a measure on the ballot can cost millions. Then communicating with the voters is many millions more.

No grassroots tenant group has the kind of money.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation does.

I’m not going to sugar-coat AHF, which has generated a lot of bad feelings in the LGBTQ+ community over the years. It’s a nonprofit with $2 billion in revenue last year, a lot of which it makes from selling AIDS medication through its own pharmacies.

But the group has also funded major tenant protection and affordable housing measures (and has stood up to the Yimbys and funded groups that argue that market-rate housing is not going to solve our problems. Full disclosure, once about six years ago a housing group funded by AHF bought me a plane ticket to LA to address a conference. That group no longer exists since AHF cut off the funding.)

And AHF is pouring millions into the repeal of Costa-Hawkins. There’s no other way this could possibly happen.

So: The landlords have had enough, and are also funding their own initiative to ban AHF—and only AHF—from spending money on pro-tenant politics.

They are gathering signatures for an initiative that, according to the state summary,

Requires certain health care providers to spend 98% of revenues from federal discount prescription drug program on direct patient care. Applies only to health care providers that: spent over $100,000,000 in any ten-year period on anything other than direct patient care.

There is only one organization in California that fits the criteria: AHF.

So millions more from the landlord PAC is also going into something called Protect Patients Now. So far, almost $8 million. The vast majority if going for paid signature gatherers to get the anti-AHF measure on the ballot.

I don’t know if that measure is going to qualify, or even if it would hold up to legal scrutiny. That doesn’t matter: The idea, clearly, is to force AHF to spend money defending its ability to spend money that would otherwise go to expanding rent control.

The Board of Realtors even threatened to oppose a measure that would make it easier to pass affordable-housing bonds—unless the Democrats agreed to exempt single-family housing (which affordable housing bonds hardly ever go to purchase anyway)—and duplex, triplex and fourplex purchases.

That would mean San Francisco couldn’t use housing bond money for its small-sites acquisition program, which is a powerful tool against eviction and displacement.

The message: These folks don’t care about housing affordability. It’s all about protecting excess profits.

How do they get away with this? Just check out their campaign contributions.

At the Board of Supes meeting, Sup. Catherine Stefani talked about how Toni Atkins, the Senate President Pro Tem Emeritus, is opposing the Coast-Hawkins repeal.

The landlords have over the years donated $460,000 to her campaigns.

They’ve given $113,000 to Oakland Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who is pushing a radical pro-development bill.

This is why tenants in California suffer.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


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