Billionaire Sam Zell, co-founder and chairman of Equity Residential, doesn’t care about solving California’s housing affordability crisis. In 2018, he spent $5.2 million to stop rent control — and to continue the status quo of seniors sleeping in their cars and families facing homelessness. He only cares about his big profits.
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 unfair, excessive 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 disrespected 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. 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 shelled out $5.2 million, in 2018, to oppose Proposition 10, which would have expanded rent control in California.
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 fueled California’s housing affordability and homeless crises — the worst in the nation.
It’s why we need rent control, which sensibly limits the amount a landlord can raise the rent and reins in landlord greed. Top experts at USC, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Columbia University agree that rent control will stabilize the housing affordability crisis — and keep people in their homes.
In 2020, we can fight back by passing the Rental Affordability Act, which again seeks to expand rent control in California. The Rental Affordability Act is urgently needed to protect our seniors, families, and neighbors from predatory landlords like Zell.
(After the above video was released, Zell contributed more monies to oppose Prop 10.)