Corporate Landlords’ Misinformation Campaign To Stop Rent Control

A sticky note with Rent Control written on it

OPINION – With the 2024 election just 10 months away, Californians are being flooded with misinformation about the Yes on 33 Act, a much-needed statewide ballot measure that expands rent control. To confuse and scare voters, corporate landlords and the California Apartment Association (CAA) are spreading lies to kill the initiative.

The Yes on 33 Act is supported by a statewide coalition of housing justice groups, social justice organizations, and labor unions. They’ve seen how corporate landlords have fueled the housing affordability and homelessness crises by charging unfair, wildly inflated rents. Veterans, seniors, and families who wonder, “Where will I live?” have suffered the consequences.

But corporate landlords want to keep charging sky-high rents to make obscene profits, and they fear Californians overwhelmingly will support the Yes on 33 Act in November. Now they’re acting out of desperation, carrying out a misinformation campaign.

Corporate landlords Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, and Equity Residential, among others, are leading the charge to stop Yes on 33. And they’re using the California Apartment Association (CAA), a front group, to do their dirty work.

Corporate landlords and the CAA have launched a deceptive campaign to kneecap AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the nonprofit sponsoring Yes on 33. Despite AHF’s life-saving operations in California and around the world, CAA is obsessed with stripping the organization of its nonprofit status to shut down AHF’s work on rent control.

Corporate landlords and the CAA have been gathering signatures for an anti-renter, anti-patient ballot initiative called Protect Patients Now. They hired a spokesman, Nathan Click, who routinely lies about AHF, using words like “tax scheme” and claiming the nonprofit uses taxpayer dollars to fund its work.  In fact, in a recent Capitol Weekly podcast, Click told at least nine lies about AHF and rent control in four minutes. That’s one lie every 26 seconds.

The truth is that AHF participates in the 340B discount drug program, using that program exactly as it is intended. AHF buys drugs at a discount and uses insurance company reimbursements to fund its work. There is no taxpayer money involved.

Reporters should investigate corporate landlords and the CAA’s troubling abuse of the ballot initiative process to destroy an opponent, silence free speech, and stop Californians from voting on measures like Yes on 33. Journalists should hold corporate landlords and the CAA accountable.

To avoid public scrutiny, corporate landlords are contributing millions to a political action committee called the California Apartment Association Issues Committee. That PAC then delivers the landlord money to Protect Patients Now. It’s an outrageous shell game that lacks all transparency. Big Real Estate is trying to trick reporters and voters.

Corporate landlords and CAA are attempting to do something unprecedented by launching an initiative that openly targets a single opponent and would, if enacted, run its opponent out of business. Reporters need to take a hard look at who’s truly funding Protect Patients Now and why corporate landlords want to harm AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

If Big Real Estate wins, the result not only will be devastating for AHF, but Big Business groups will follow up with their own measures to quiet labor unions, housing justice groups, and social justice organizations.

At the same time he was attacking AHF on the recent Capitol Weekly podcast, Click also said that “every” study shows that rent control is bad for housing production. That too is a lie. There are numerous studies that say the exact opposite.

In fact, a group of academics recently debunked the myth that rent control stifles development. Last year, 32 economists sent a letter to the Biden Administration in support of rent control and emphasized that “rent regulation policies do not limit new construction, nor overall supply of housing.” And prominent pro-rent control studies by the University of Southern California and UC Berkeley found that rent control doesn’t harm production.

AHF has 1.9 million patients in care and has saved millions of lives around the world. It also has purchased 15 properties in LA alone, moving 1,417 people into permanent housing who otherwise would be homeless. And AHF has more than 500 units in the pipeline.

Yet AHF, a healthcare provider, is being attacked and demonized by corporate landlords who have deep pockets and a long history of scandal. So when Nathan Click and any other CAA spokespeople talk, reporters must challenge their intentional disinformation, not simply repeat it. Lives hang in the balance.

Patrick Range McDonald is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.