After a defeat at the polls, housing advocates get confrontational in Santa Monica

By Gary Walker

More than 100 protesters swarmed in and around the lobby of The Blackstone Group, which spent more than $6 million to defeat Prop 10
Photos by Maria Martin

After seeing rent control ballot initiative Proposition 10 go down in flames at the ballot box with only 39.3% statewide support, some affordable housing advocates are vowing to wage disruptive protests — even risking arrest — demanding that lawmakers do more to address housing affordability.

Activists and at least one local lawmaker say such remedies could include attempts to revise the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995, the state law that prevents local governments from expanding rent control, which Prop 10 had sought to repeal outright.

Last Wednesday (Nov. 7), more than
100 members of community organizing groups and their supporters stormed the downtown Santa Monica office of private equity and real estate firm The Blackstone Group, resulting in the arrests of several demonstrators who refused orders by police to leave the building.

Outside the building, against a backdrop of flashing red and blue lights, protesters briefly clashed with Santa Monica police officers along Wilshire Boulevard between Ocean Avenue and Second Street as Rene Maya, a member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), was arrested and taken away in a police car. ACCE formed during the collapse of ACORN to advocate for state policy changes that would benefit low- and moderate-income families.

Amid deafening chants of “Blackstone has got to go!” and “Blackstone, you can’t hide! We can see your greedy side!” demonstrators said they targeted the corporate landlord for its financial contributions of efforts to defeat Prop 10. Of more than $75 million raised by opponents, Blackstone contributed $6.2 million to those efforts, according to campaign finance records.

“We’re sick and tired of seeing members of our community get driven out of L.A. County or into the streets,” said People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER) Director Bill Przylucki, who participated in the protest. “We’ve had people say ‘I voted against Proposition 10 because I’m for rent control.’ That’s how much close to a $100 million will buy you in confusion and lies,” he said.

Los Angeles tenants’ rights attorney Elena Pope said advocates will seek an ally in Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who did not back Prop 10 but has gone on record as supporting “reform” of Costa-Hawkins, which limits the application of L.A.’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance to apartments constructed before 1978.

“This election was bought,” Pope said, “and we don’t have [the funding] to compete with the opponents.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Shelia Kuehl, whose district includes Santa Monica, applauded the protestors for fighting for the housing affordability cause.

“I think people are really up in arms and they need to continue to speak out on the incredibly misleading advertising by some of the larger real estate groups that opposed Proposition 10. With the millions of dollars that they spent to mislead the public, it’s no wonder Proposition 10 lost,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl, formerly a Democratic state legislator, said Sacramento lawmakers should consider modifying the 23-year-old Costa-Hawkins Act in light of
how much time has passed since it went into effect.

“Maybe instead of using the year 1995 [as a baseline] it could be changed to a later year, like 2010,” Kuehl said.

Blackstone declined to address the protest directly, but reiterated the company’s position that expanding rent control would decrease investment in new housing, decreasing supply and thus making units less affordable in the long-run.

“We agree steps should be taken to address housing affordability in California, but virtually all independent economists agree this measure exacerbates California’s existing shortage by discouraging new construction and reducing new investment in affordable housing,” wrote Blackstone Senior Vice President of Global Public Affairs Matt Anderson.

Blackstone owns a 42% share of Invitation Homes, a company that rents single-family homes and has also been a target of protests.

“We have invested more than $2 billion in upfront renovations on our homes, including an average of almost $29,000 for our homes in California, many of which were sitting vacant or blighted when we purchased them,” an Invitation Homes spokeswoman said. “Those investments play an important role in stabilizing local housing markets and supporting economic growth and job creation in California communities.”

Przylucki said he believes a lack of widespread voter education —“especially about who was paying for each side and who was supporting each side” — is responsible for the resounding failure of Prop 10.

“When you’re going against millions of dollars, you need a good ground game,” Pope said.