On November 13th, Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP) staff traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in a Tenant Takeover. The multi-day convening was hosted by the People’s Action Homes Guarantee Campaign, and featured tenant organizers and advocates from across the country. Groups such as Bozeman Tenants United, KC Tenants Union, and Not Me We, were also in attendance. Activities at the takeover included lobbying, a congressional briefing, a press conference with Representative Pramilla Jayapal, and a direct action at the headquarters of Starwood Capital Group– a private equity landlord that has received loans from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Tenants also received training on direct actions, formulated strategy for the upcoming year, and spent time envisioning more ideas besides their current campaign for rent regulations.
On the first full day of the tenant takeover, tenants marched through the streets of Washington DC to host a press conference on the Capitol lawn. Holding a massive banner reading “the rent is too damn high,” tenants stood beside Representative Jayapal as she connected the ongoing housing crisis to the overall cycle of poverty. Speaking directly to cameras, Jayapal stated that “without a stable home or affordable rent, it is impossible to move out of unemployment or build up a financial safety net to safeguard against eviction and homelessness.”
Tenants left the press conference feeling energized, which they carried with them into their meeting with Lauryn Enrico, a Supervisory Policy Analyst at the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Through the meeting, tenants were able to speak openly about the public comment period that sought feedback on a proposal to enforce renter protections at federally financed properties. Thousands of tenants responded to the request for input, in addition to advocacy groups and nonprofits (including PESP). The FHFA oversees both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government sponsored mortgage companies. Through this role, the agency oversees roughly $150 billion in financing for landlords for approximately 25 percent of multi-family housing, impacting about roughly 12 million rental units.
In the meeting, tenants spoke about the need for transparency and also urgency in regard to results from the public comment period. They also detailed complaints of landlord neglect, with several tenants raising urgent issues such as mold, harassment, and evictions. The issues raised by tenants echoed those that have been raised by tenants at Southern Towers, a Virginia-based apartment complex owned by private equity firm the CIM Group. In 2020. CIM was able to purchase the complex with a $346 million loan from Freddie Mac, despite numerous headlines about itsbusiness practices and tenant mistreatment by the firm.
While tenants at the takeover told Enrico they were aware of local services and assistance programs, they stressed that these programs were often overburdened due to the housing crisis’s impacts on their local communities. Tenants emphasized that without the protection of the federal government, they were lacking in avenues for accountability for corporate landlords that receive federal funding. Due to the FHFA’s power, the Homes Guarantee campaign believes that the agency has a duty to ensure that landlords are providing tenants with safe, equitable, and affordable housing. Otherwise, if the agency continues to loan millions of dollars to private equity landlords without ensuring humane living conditions, the federal government will be putting corporations above the needs of working class people. It is not just tenants that are asking for more protections. In August, 18 members of Congress released a letter to the FHFA urging regulators to adopt a Renters Bill of Rights into their policy. The bill of rights includes “good cause” eviction protections, protections for tenants’ right to organize, and the ability for people to access a national database of landlords who operate federally backed properties.
Tenants closed out their takeover by holding an action inside and outside of the headquarters of Starwood Capital Group. According to the Washington Post, Starwood-owned apartments in Arizona and Florida have experienced rent hikes as high as 30%. As one of the largest residential landlords in the United States, the firm owns 115,000 units and owns one of the largest commercial mortgage real estate investment trusts in the country. Inside the building, tenants hosted a press conference where they spoke about the impacts that the housing crisis has had on their lives, including job loss, homelessness, and the fracturing of familial relationships. Wearing matching shirts and holding banners and signs, tenants marched out of the building and down into the street as they talked to passers-by about the campaign. As they got back onto their buses after their action, they sang a jingle reminding DC once again, that the rent is too damn high.
VIDEO:More Perfect Union. November 27, 2023.
VIDEO:Washington Post. November 14, 2023.
Vice. November 20, 2023. Tenants and Economists Are Pushing to Regulate Rent for a Vast Amount of U.S. Housing. Roshan Abraham.
Marketwatch. November 18, 2023. Landlords are in the crosshairs as advocates and politicians question rising rents. Aarthi Swaminathan.
Truthout. November 18, 2023. Priced Out and Fed Up, Tenants Demand a National Renters Bill of Rights. Mike Ludwig.
Green Street News. November 17, 2023. Fannie, Freddie Turning Away More Loans. Zach Fox.
Law360. November 15, 2023. Experts, Tenants Want FHFA Action On Housing Crisis. Grace Dixon.
NC Newsline. November 16, 2023. ‘Out of control’: Advocates rally in D.C. calling for action on housing crisis. Samantha Dietel. Also published in:Missouri Independent,APG of Wisconsin,Star-Herald,Ground News