No matter which way we look at it, 2021 was a big year that marked big changes for our country and for ACCE Institute. We spent the year fighting and winning major victories for California’s tenants, homeowners, and undocumented residents. From winning full rent forgiveness to keeping thousands of families in their homes through local and state tenant protections, we worked hard to realize our vision for justice in California.
In the 2020 election, 59.6% of voters rejected Proposition 21, a ballot measure that would have expanded municipalities’ right to enact rent control. While such a devastating loss might lead one to believe that Californians oppose rent-control, the No campaigns' rhetoric makes it clear that nothing could be further from the truth.
To defeat Proposition 21, the No campaigns engaged in a ruthless disinformation campaign to deceive California voters on Proposition 21’s substance. This report briefly looks at who was behind this unethical campaign of disinformation. It then looks at the No campaigns rhetoric, which, while frustratingly effective, highlights the tenant movement’s progress in California. The No campaigns’ rhetoric proves that Californians want rent control, eviction protections, more affordable housing, racial justice and support for senior citizens, veterans, and the unhoused.
Because of the unprecedented housing crisis in Los Angeles, few people will be surprised by this report. Our housing system fails to house tens of thousands of the city’s residents and leaves hundreds of thousands more struggling under astronomical rents. But for some, the housing market is working exactly as they would prefer, delivering unprecedented profits to a privileged class of investors who have bent the housing market to their interests. Rampant speculation has resulted in a housing system that works in the interest of a few, to the detriment of the many, along lines of race and class.
Some of the outcomes of this dynamic are detailed in this report. With more than 36,000 unhoused residents, Los Angeles simultaneously has over 93,000 units sitting vacant, nearly half of which are withheld from the housing market. Thousands of luxury units across the city are empty, owned as second homes or pure investments. At a time when the city should be doing everything in its power to house people, over 22 square miles of vacant lots are owned and kept vacant by corporate entities. The power of finance, which has brought 67% of the city’s residential units under its control, is also manifest in the ability of speculative developers to remake neighborhoods to fit their own vision. The pattern of development occurring all across Los Angeles further contributes to the vacancy and houselessness crises, as new units are priced beyond the reach of most Angelenos, leading to an excess supply of high-rent housing that fails to lease and therefore fails to house people, coupled with a crisis of unmet need for housing for the most vulnerable.
High vacancy rates in expensive luxury housing developments are a core symptom of a broader speculative housing system that is failing to benefit our communities. Speculative practices yield an unbalanced production of vacant luxury development at a time when evictions are fueling a loss of affordable rental units, increasing numbers of corporate landlords are unaccountable to lowincome tenants, and we are failing to build enough covenanted, deeply affordable housing. All of this accelerates our houselessness crisis. We must prioritize using housing to actually house people and reorganize the market to meet this goal.
This report suggests a place to start, by proposing a suite of policies to curb the speculative excesses of the housing market and promote the use of housing for homes. Los Angeles is currently suffering through an unprecedented public health crisis. COVID-19 has made the immediate shelter of all Angelenos, already a moral and political crisis, into a public health crisis as well. Beyond the immediate need for shelter, the economic devastation that has resulted from the pandemic has put hundreds of thousands of renters at risk for eviction and houselessness, magnifying the already desperate need for new permanently affordable and stable housing. The policies suggested in this report can help mitigate some of the effects of the current crisis on renters.
COVID-19 has also deeply impacted the city’s coffers, and the need for revenue-generating policies to fund the necessary expansion of affordable housing and service provision is apparent. The city should not fail to act on policies that will provide much-needed revenue for affordable housing and services for the unhoused, and curb harmful and speculative behavior in the housing market at a time when disaster capitalists circle.
California is in the midst of a housing crisis that threatens the health and well-being of millions of people. The crisis is particularly acute in low-income communities, who overwhelmingly pay a large portion of their already-small income on housing, and communities of color, who have faced decades of legal and extra-legal residential segregation, housing discrimination, predatory lending, and exclusionary lending practices, such as redlining. While hundreds of thousands of Californians experience housing instability or have to make the choice between paying rent and buying basic necessities like food and medicine, corporate landlords are profiting from this crisis.
Based on research from MIT graduate Maya Abood and in partnership with Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) and Public Advocates we are excited to announce the release of our new report! The report, “Wall Street Landlords Turns American Dream Into American Nightmare: Wall Street’s big bet on the home rental market, and the bad surprises in store for tenants, communities, and the dream of homeownership”, documents in detail Wall Street’s growing influence, and abuses, in the single family rental (SFR) industry in geographies where it has focused its efforts.