During Pandemic, Landlords Thomas Coates and Jackie Safier Spend Big to Stop Rent Control

Prometheus Real Estate Group CEO Jackie Safier

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, slamming middle- and working-class Californians who struggle to pay already sky-high rents, corporate landlords Thomas Coates and Jackie Safier have shelled out major campaign contributions to a committee that opposes the Rental Affordability Act, a November ballot measure that will expand rent control in California. With their contributions, Coates and Safier are ignoring the plight of hard-working Californians, who will feel the devastating financial impacts of the pandemic for months to come.

Housing activists say there’s a desperate need for sensible rent limits to keep people safe and in their homes. Last week, activists kicked off a campaign that urges Gov. Gavin Newsom to suspend the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a state law that severely restricts local rent control policies. The suspension would allow communities to expand rent control while millions of Californians, with little or no work due to stay-at-home orders, are scrambling to pay rents that were excessive before the pandemic struck.

“More than ever, the precarious position of renters in California is being put into stark relief. Now is not the time for half measures — this is the worst economic crisis confronted by renters in a century,” René Christian Moya, Housing Is A Human Right and Rental Affordability Act Campaign Director, said recently about suspending Costa-Hawkins. “California was already experiencing a historic crisis of housing affordability before COVID-19. Our elected officials must be bold to protect our state’s 17 million renters.”

Yet on April 16, according to state filings, Jackson Square Properties, a San Francisco firm that owns apartment complexes in Northern and Southern California, delivered a king-sized check of $505,800 to Californians for Responsible Housing, a committee sponsored by the California Apartment Association (CAA) that’s opposing the Rental Affordability Act. Thomas Coates, a longtime opponent of rent control, is a managing partner at Jackson Square Properties.

In January, Coates personally sent $179,051 to Californians for Responsible Housing — General Purpose Committee, which also opposes the Rental Affordability Act and funnels money to the committee sponsored by the California Apartment Association. So far, the general purpose committee has delivered more than $1 million to the CAA committee, according to state filings.

Then on April 17, a day that California surpassed 1,000 coronavirus deaths, Prometheus Real Estate Group contributed $566,110 to Californians for Responsible Housing, sponsored by the CAA. Prometheus, a corporate landlord based in San Mateo, has also contributed $268,577 to the general purpose committee, according to state filings. Jackie Safier, a billionaire, is the CEO of Prometheus.

Coates and Safier have sordid histories.

In 2008, Coates, a millionaire, shelled out nearly $1 million to an unsuccessful statewide ballot measure that would have phased out rent control in California. Coates was also a major contributor to the victorious Proposition Q, a 2016 ballot measure in San Francisco that allowed the city to clear homeless encampments and further criminalized homelessness. Such sweeps, advocates say, do nothing to deal with the root causes of homelessness.

In 2018, Coates contributed heavily to oppose Proposition 10, the California ballot measure that sought to expand rent control. It was backed by a broad coalition of organizations, civic leaders, and elected officials, including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. But Coates and other corporate landlords raised $77.3 million to successfully stop Prop 10.

Jackie Safier, CEO of Prometheus Real Estate Group, is also an ardent opponent of rent control. Prometheus contributed $2.1 million to stop Proposition 10, and shelled out campaign cash to stop a 2016 rent control measure in Mountain View, California. Charging between $2,000 and $3,700 per month for studio and one-bedroom apartments, Safier also spent her riches on contributing more than $300,000 to Republican committees in key battleground states that helped Donald Trump win the White House in 2016. Trump has been widely criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including his suggestion that Americans could fight off the disease by injecting themselves with disinfectant.

Middle- and working-class Californians are now struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Since mid-March, about 3.5 million Californians have filed for unemployment, and countless numbers of tenants have been unable to pay rent. Experts expect devastating financial impacts in California that will not go away any time soon, and activists fear that the longtime housing affordability and homeless crises in California will only worsen. By shelling out massive campaign contributions to stop the expansion of rent limits, Safier and Coates do not appear to care.

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