Billionaire Sam Zell, co-founder and chairman of Equity Residential, shows little respect for women and working people — and he wants no one to touch his $4.4 billion fortune. To keep maximum profits flowing, Equity Residential has joined other corporate landlords and contributed $5,224,900* in campaign cash to oppose Proposition 10 — and to stop reasonable limits on excessive rents.
Equity Residential, a Chicago-based real estate investment trust (REIT), owns 303 properties totaling 78,280 apartments in San Francisco, Southern California, New York, and other cities. It’s been known to aggressively push tenants out of their rent-controlled units in order to dramatically raise rents once they move out — and to force tenants to live in substandard living conditions. Squeezing hard-working people has paid off handsomely for Zell.
The billionaire landlord lives in posh homes in Chicago, Sun Valley, New York, and Malibu. He spends his billions playing poker, flying around the world in a private jet, and riding one of his 13 motorcycles. While senior citizens, teachers, and college students struggle to pay sky-high rents for modest apartments, Zell lives a globe-trotting life of extravagance and luxury.
But Zell has never been too concerned about the plight of working people. In January 2008, he bought the Tribune Company, which owned the Los Angeles Times, for $8.2 billion. Zell expected big profits, but within less than a year, the Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy — the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry. Zell kept his billions, but under his failed leadership, more than 4,200 employees lost their jobs.
Often described as “vulgar” and “crass” in the media, Zell showed utter disrespect towards women at a recent confab in New York City.
At the REITweek investor conference in June, the billionaire was asked about gender diversity in the workplace and the #MeToo movement. He glibly replied, “I never promoted a woman because she was a woman. I never demoted a woman because she was a woman. My issue is what do you do, what do you produce, how do you interrelate to the rest of the business.”
Zell then stunned the audience by using a vulgarity to describe his female employees. “I don’t think there’s ever been a, ‘We gotta get more pussy on the block, okay?’”
Such a public display shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bill Ferguson, who recently studied gender inequity on the boards of REITs, told the Wall Street Journal: “To be frank, the REIT industry is not the most enlightened group when it comes to diversity around the table.”
Zell’s remark in New York City wasn’t a one-time thing. Politico reported that Zell allegedly made another derisive statement about women during a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in April. When asked what he thought of investing in South America, Zell replied, “Argentina is like a beautiful woman — her greatest asset is a man’s imagination.”
This is the man who’s now shelling out $5.2 million to oppose Prop 10 — and to keep the status quo while seniors, teachers, and families struggle to pay skyrocketing rents and face homelessness.
Zell and other billionaire landlords will do anything to make more billions, disregarding the hard-working people that they hurt. Corporate greed, in fact, has helped cause California’s housing-affordability and homeless crises — the worst in the nation.
But we have a solution: Proposition 10.
Prop 10 is supported by trusted organizations, labor unions, and social justice organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the California Teachers Association, the California Democratic Party, the ACLU, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, and many others. They are not standing with corporate landlords like Zell.
Prop 10 allows communities to put reasonable limits on excessive rents — and to check corporate landlord greed. It returns power to us, and guarantees that landlords will make a fair rate of return. Vote Yes on 10.
(*Equity Residential has contributed additional monies to oppose Prop 10 since this article and accompanying video was first published.)