Wow! What a year of organizing and winning for everyday Californians. This report contains dozens of successful organizing campaigns, policy fights, and infrastructure growth, but the reality is that ACCE members won so many more victories in 2023 than can fit in this brief summary. We took meaningful steps toward our north star of winning a housing system built on the value that everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. We began to organize around climate justice and pension divestment from Blackstone. We launched two new movements in Rise Up/Levantate CA and California Common Good, and we helped incubate Movement Legal (formally ACCE legal) to add to the state’s tenant movement infrastructure. Our staff and budget grew as we took on new challenges and issue areas, and we engaged in the struggle, together with allies at the local and state level, to create more alignment and capacity for our movements.
This year comes with its own challenges and opportunities that we are gearing up for. The national election gives us the chance to “campaignize” the election -putting our member’s issues and solutions front and center while exposing the money and agenda that big real estate and big oil are moving through our democratic processes. It also comes with the threat of a violent and bigoted base of anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-lgbtq+ individuals and groups being activated as the country battles between creating a true democracy and falling into fascism. All of that while we continue to make progress on creating a housing system that works for us all, and saving the planet from climate disaster. That may sound daunting, but what we at ACCE know is that the only thing that can save us, is US. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. So, we will roll up our sleeves and keep working to construct the California, the country, and the planet we deserve.
On a personal note, 2024 marks my 20th anniversary as an organizer, which both begs the question - when did I get so old? and generates a desire to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed. I can think of many successes and defeats, regrets and moments of pride, but when I put the last 20 years together, one thing that I can say for sure is that I have met the most dedicated, courageous, righteous, and special people in my life through my work at ACCE. Many of those people are ACCE members and staff, some are mentors, and some are allies and supporters. Every one of them has left a mark on me - made me wiser, more strategic, more caring, more steadfast. So, thank you all for how you have changed me, and for how you’ve changed the course of history! I’m still in this fight, in part, because of you, and I’ll keep fighting hasta la victoria.
With Love and Solidarity,
Christina Livingston, ACCE Institute Executive Director
From Housing Providers to Drivers of Homelessness: How the California Apartment Association’s Wall Street Leadership Spent Nearly a Quarter Billion Dollars to Block Housing Solutions
Californians consistently identify high housing costs and addressing homelessness as two of the top issues they want to see lawmakers address. Numerous reports and studies have documented the problems and outlined consensus strategies and solutions. However, to date, state and local governments have failed to pass policies or make investments commensurate with the scale of the state’s housing needs. Why are policymakers failing to act? One of the major reasons is the powerful and deep-pocketed corporate real estate lobby led by the California Apartment Association (CAA). While the CAA often claims to represent their 13,000 members, the CAA’s agenda primarily serves their leadership who are some of the country’s largest Wall Street corporate landlords. The business model of these mega corporate landlords is predicated on increasing profits at all costs by raising rents, neglecting maintenance, and evicting frequently. Since 2017, the CAA has dramatically increased its spending to oppose or repeal critical housing justice solutions. Over the past three legislative sessions – 2017/2018; 2019/2020; and 2021/2022 (based on Secretary of State data accessed on 02/01/2023) – the CAA, with the help of its corporate real estate investor members and other toxic industries, has spent at least $233 million dollars ($233,827,386) in political contributions and lobbying. Through their spreading of cash, the CAA has furthered its Wall Street agenda, making it even harder for all of us to find stability and opportunity while calling California home.
California is at the epicenter of houselessness crisis in the United States. Over half of the nation’s unsheltered people and a quarter of all unhoused people live in California, despite the fact that California residents make up only 12% of the nation’s population. This is largely due to the state’s skyrocketing housing costs, lack of affordable housing, and stagnating wages. The burdens of California’s affordable housing shortage and resulting houselessness crisis raise grave humanitarian concerns and fall disproportionately on Black and Brown residents.
As this report demonstrates, enshrining a fundamental right to housing in the California Constitution is a necessary step to effectively address the growing housing crisis at the state level. Guaranteeing every person the right to housing provides an important government obligation and legal tool to ensure that Californians have access to affordable and adequate housing. This rights-based approach is supported by a rich body of international human rights law and will bolster California’s existing Housing First policy, based on decades of empirical evidence that houselessness is most effectively remedied by access to permanent and stable housing, with minimal requirements for entry.
BLACKSTONE COMES TO COLLECT: How America’s Largest Landlord and Wall Street’s Highest Paid CEO Are Jacking Up Rents and Ramping Up Evictions
The Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP) and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) have released a new report that documents rent hikes and increased evictions by the private equity firm The Blackstone Group. Blackstone now owns and manages over 300,000 units of rental housing in the U.S., making it the largest landlord in the U.S.
In 2021, Blackstone bought 5,600 housing units in San Diego County where rents had been affordable to lower income tenants. As units in San Diego County become vacant, Blackstone has raised rents in some units 43% higher than it was just two years ago.
Blackstone also has a history of spending millions of dollars to oppose rent control in California. The company gave over $7 million in 2018 and more than $7 million in 2020 to fight against the ballot initiatives.
Blackstone founder and CEO Stephen Schwartzman received $1.3 billion in compensation last year.
2022 was a year full of gains for ACCE! We deepened our organizing programs and experiments, we built out our training programs and critical discussions about the systems and actors we are up against, we sharpened our understanding of what we are called to do, we expanded our base and our staff team, and we WON A LOT for our people.