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San Diego area tenants stage protest against corporate landlord Blackstone

Cristina Kim
Tenants and ACCE San Diego organizers inside of the Conrad Prebys Foundations' conference room in Mission Valley, December 9, 2021. Others tenants and supporters filled the hallway and reception area.

A group of mostly low-income tenants and their advocates staged a protest Thursday in Mission Valley to call attention to what they say are predatory practices by the New York-based real estate behemoth Blackstone, which this year paid more than $1 billion for nearly 6,000 San Diego area rental units.

Blackstone tenants who took part in the protest said the company is raising rents and not making good on promises to renovate rundown properties. They are demanding, among other things, that the company not raise rents until California’s COVID state of emergency — which was extended to March 2022 —is lifted and to keep increases at 3% or less thereafter.

“We’re not being respected as tenants, the issues are not being taken care of and the home that was once beautiful that we were living in is now embarrassing, somewhat, to bring family and friends,” said Kathleen, a tenant of a Blackstone-owned apartment complex in La Mesa, who didn’t want to provide her last name for fear of reprisals.

She was among more than 20 protesters from across San Diego County who occupied the offices of the Conrad Prebys Foundation, which sold the real estate portfolio to Blackstone. The deal closed in late August 2021.

“We’re here today to make demand that the Conrad Prebys Family Foundation help us reach out to Blackstone and FPI Management in order to schedule a meeting to meet with our tenants to discuss the concerns that they are facing at their buildings,” said Jose Lopez, Director of ACCE San Diego, the local tenants group that organized the protest.

The foundation, which is among San Diego’s most prominent philanthropic organizations and a donor to KPBS, has said previously that sale was done to raise money for the benefit of its many charitable endeavors. On Thursday, the foundation said it could not help the protesters.

“We understand a group of individuals is interested in speaking with the owner of these properties,” said Dan Yates, the president of the foundation’s board in a statement to KPBS. “But The Conrad Prebys Foundation no longer owns these properties and does not have any influence to broker these discussions.”

Blackstone is one of the world’s largest private equity firms and owns real estate around the globe with an estimated value in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Housing advocates the world over claim that it and other absentee corporate landlords have decimated communities by buying up properties and then driving residents out of their homes with rent increases.

San Diego area tenants stage protest against corporate landlord Blackstone

On Thursday, a representative from Blackstone told KPBS that any rents that have been raised are at less than market rate and that they have already completed over 5,000 work orders aimed at improving and repairing properties.

“We are big believers in San Diego, and we are committed to making these communities attractive places to live by investing more than $100 million to focus on best-in-class management,” said the Blackstone representative. “We will ensure that these properties continue to provide the community with a high-quality rental option at a good value and we believe our renewal rental rates are below market.”

The protesters peacefully occupied the Prebys Foundation offices for about two hours. San Diego Police eventually arrived on the scene, but no arrests were made.