Combatting the ruinous greed of the developers / by John Clarke

Condo towers in Toronto. Photo courtesy PARTISANS Projects/Flickr.

Originally published in Canadian Dimension on March 13, 2023

Last November, Gaétan Héroux and I wrote an article for Canadian Dimension on an emerging struggle to prevent the construction of a 47-storey condominium tower in Toronto’s Downtown East. We argued that this project would serve to drive up land prices and rents, while fuelling the gentrification of this poor working class community. We also pointed out that this upscale project would give the green light to “developers seeking to speculate and buy up properties in the Downtown East, thereby endangering a whole infrastructure of services in the area that took decades to establish.” Gentrification of this area has been going on for some time, but a luxury condo tower in the very heart of the community would take the process to an unprecedented level.

Redevelopment juggernaut

When we wrote that article, we were not fully aware of the dimensions of the redevelopment juggernaut descending on the Downtown East or of the momentum the project has already gathered. Drawing on information that is available through the City of Toronto, we have now been able to take stock of the developer-led plans for one of the poorest urban neighbourhoods in Canada.

Dundas Street East cuts a swath through the community, often referred to as the “Dundas Corridor.” Along this strip, four major condo developments have been completed and seven more are yet to be built. The developers responsible for the four that have been finished are Menkes Development (205 condo units), the Gupta Group (1,012 units), CentreCourt (Grid Condos, 565 units), and Great Gulf (Pace Condominiums, 387 units).

The seven developments that are still at the planning stage are being inflicted on the community by Kingsett Capital (responsible for the 619 unit condo development at Dundas and Sherbourne), Menkes Development (500 units), Metropia (670 units), Centricity Condos (594 units), CentreCourt Developments Inc. (665 units), Amexon Development (58 units), and the Pemberton Group (598 units).

We estimate the total sales revenue of the 2,169 condo units that have been completed at $1.734 billion. Experts generally expect profits from condo construction to range from 10 to 20 percent. If we set the rate at the lower end, say, 12 percent, the developers in these ventures would amass $208.29 million. As for the as-yet uncompleted projects, these will comprise an additional 4,227 units, a sales revenue of $3.48 billion and profits in the range of $410 million. If the higher rate applied, the yet to be completed buildings would bring in $700 million. With the four projects already in place, this would total $1.047 billion in profits from the development drive, a remarkable figure for a single Toronto neighbourhood.

The reckless push to create an oversupply of upscale housing along the Dundas Corridor is unfolding without regard for long-term implications or the devastating impact on a poor working class community with roots there dating back to the 1800s. Laughably, the luxury housing development under construction in the area will include a mere 24 ‘affordable’ rental units. Across Ontario and the rest of Canada, the destructive role of developers in the extreme commodification of housing is producing comparably dreadful results.

Of course, the path taken by developers and others who profit from the present approach to housing provision is being cleared by political decision-makers at every level. The idea of challenging the developers is completely out of the question for the members of Toronto City Council. Even the left wing at City Hall is reduced to appealing for a few more ‘affordable’ units to be included in upscale projects.

For its part, Doug Ford’s administration is operating overtly as a political agent of the developers. Ford’s readiness to hand over a portion of the Greenbelt around Toronto has sparked outrage across the country. The Ontario Tories express, in the crudest terms, the consensus among governments in this country that the supply of housing must be met, to the extent that it is, by subordinating everything to the dictates of profit-making.

As Ford rides out the scandalous revelation that developers came to a party at his house with cash gifts for his soon-to-be married daughter, it becomes clear that while the rural sprawl he has happily encouraged may be profitable, it runs counter to responsible urban planning. A new report informs us that “[the city of] Hamilton already has enough space to build 87,600 homes within its urban boundary—close to double its provincial target—without needing to open up the Greenbelt or expand into prime farmland.”

Clearly, the prevailing view that housing should be treated as a commodity and a source of speculative wealth is at odds with the needs of communities and the equitable and sustainable use of urban space. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Balakrishhan Rajagopal, has affirmed, “The right to adequate housing is more than having a roof over one’s head, it is the right to live in safety and dignity in a decent home.”

The developers’ profit bonanza along the Dundas Corridor makes a mockery of this view. The condo towers they are erecting will provide luxury homes for a select segment of middle class professionals, although we may be sure that many will sit empty, as speculators hold onto them in the hope of turning a profit. This distorted system of housing provision will, of course, render the housing market even more unstable and exclusionary.

The acceleration of upscale redevelopment will force up rents, drive out low income tenants and facilitate the removal of the numerous homeless shelters and other vital services that have long been based in this area. This clearing process will be conducted ruthlessly, as property values and developers’ aspirations take priority over human need. Increased inequality, poverty, destitution and the proliferation of urban sprawl will be the price the rest of us pay for the enrichment of developers and parasitic speculators.

Fighting back

The Downtown East community has a long and proud history of fighting back and another round of struggle is shaping up, as profits are put ahead of the housing needs of those who live in the area. A challenge to the redevelopment juggernaut is emerging that is focused on the proposed condo development at Dundas and Sherbourne. An organization called 230 Fightback is leading a campaign to stop the condo and ensure that desperately needed social housing is built in its place.

Last month, 230 Fightback brought a mass delegation to the banking tower in the financial district where the developer, KingSett Capital, has an office. Efforts by police and private security to shut out the delegation failed, and a senior representative of the company was forced to accept a letter of protest. It was made abundantly clear that the developer and its enablers in City Hall can expect to be challenged. If Bay Street is coming to Dundas and Sherbourne then Dundas and Sherbourne will come to Bay Street.

The fight will escalate over the spring and summer. There are plans for community meetings and a major mobilization on the streets in June. In challenging this condo development and the other projects in the area, 230 Fightback is taking up a struggle that is in the interest of communities all across Canada. Housing must be treated as a vital social need and a human right and the destructive profit bonanza of the developers must be brought to an end.

John Clarke is a writer and retired organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). Follow his tweets at @JohnOCAP and blog at

Media narratives shield landlords from a crisis of their own making / by FAIR

The New York Times (9/27/22) asks readers to feel sorry for this man who owns 11 apartments.

Originally Published in Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) on October 21, 2022

As landlords continue their relentless pursuit of profits, and politicians allow pandemic-era eviction moratoriums to expire, the human toll of a fundamentally brutal housing system is arguably more visible than ever—particularly in America’s largest cities.

Much of corporate media’s coverage of the deepening housing crisis, however, focuses on what are presented as three great evils: that landlords of supposedly modest means are being squeezed; that individuals and families living without homes destroy the aesthetics of cities; and that, in line with the most recent manufactured panic over violent crime, people without homes pose a threat to the lives and property of law-abiding citizens.

| Time magazines dire predictions 61120 about the plight of mom and pop landlords failed to come to pass | MR Online

Time magazine’s dire predictions (6/11/20) about the plight of “mom-and-pop landlords” failed to come to pass.

By pushing these narratives, corporate media are engaging in a strategy of misdirection. This shields the propertied class from scrutiny regarding a crisis of its own making—from which it derives immense profits—while blame is assigned to over-burdened renters and people who are unhoused.

The plight of Ma and Pa Landlord

Over the past year, rents around the country have risen at a staggering rate—far outpacing the growth of workers’ incomes. The median asking rent in July 2022 was more than 30% greater than it had been just a year earlier. Over the same period, wages grew just 5%.

While individuals and families are being forced to sink an ever-greater proportion of their income into housing, and as more and more people face the life-altering prospect of dislocation, establishment media outlets have decided that the real profile-worthy victims of this crisis are landlords, faced with rising costs and hindered from raising rents by the strictures of law and public opinion.

Corporate media’s boundless sympathy for “small” and “medium-sized” landlords is well-established. As the pandemic raged and millions of people struggled to pay for basic necessities, establishment outlets consistently chose to focus on how eviction moratoriums were depriving property owners of their right to throw delinquent tenants onto the streets.

CNBC (6/25/21) quoted Dean Hunter, introduced as “CEO of the Small Multifamily Owners Association and a landlord himself”:

This is the most excessively and overly broad taking of private property in my lifetime… The eviction moratorium is killing small landlords, not the pandemic.

During the early days of the pandemic, Time (6/11/20) predicted that eviction moratoriums would result in all kinds of disaster for the small landlord:

The mom-and-pop landlords who are able to draw on their own savings to make it through the eviction moratoriums imposed by their local governments may struggle to recoup their losses when it’s all over… Evicted tenants sometimes get away with not paying their debts by changing bank accounts, ignoring collections agencies, working cash-only jobs, filing for bankruptcy or fleeing the state.

As it turned out, Time’s premonitions of scheming tenants using every available means to victimize their struggling landlords were wrong. A July 2021 study from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley found that just 35% of small rental property owners experienced any decline at all in revenue, while around 13% actually reported rising rent revenue in 2020. An October 2021 report from JPMorgan Chase, meanwhile, concluded:

The New York Times (9/27/22) asks readers to feel sorry for this man who owns 11 apartments.

For the median small landlord, rental income did decline, especially in the early months of the pandemic, but recovered quickly. The median landlord ended the year with a modest 3% shortfall in rent… Our data show that landlords were able to cut their expenses by more than their rental revenues fell, which resulted in landlords’ cash balances growing during the pandemic.

‘What about their landlords?’

Even as pandemic-era tenant protections have been allowed to lapse by politicians eager to serve the real estate lobby, corporate media continue to push the narrative that landlords are suffering—this time as a result of rising costs.

Along this line, the New York Times (9/27/22) ran a piece with the headline “Inflation Has Hit Tenants Hard. What About Their Landlords?” The article detailed the hardships faced by Neal Verma, whose company Nova Asset Management—to which the Times provided a link—manages 6,000 apartments in the Houston area. “It’s crushing our margins,” Mr. Verma said:

Our profits from last year have evaporated, and we’re running at break-even at a number of properties. There’s some people who think landlords must be making money. No. We’ve only gone up 12% to 14%, and our expenses have gone up 30%.

The Times, while broadcasting Verma’s consternation at “running at break-even at a number of properties,” failed to ask any of his tenants about how a 12% to 14% rent increase has impacted them. And although the article cited increased maintenance costs as one of the factors contributing to Verma’s plight, Nova’s Google reviews indicate that basic maintenance isn’t exactly high on its list of priorities.

| The park where the New York Post 73022 puts people without housing in the same class as vermin is located at the north end of the Bowery where low income residents have been displaced by wealthy gentrifiers for decades | MR Online

The park where the New York Post (7/30/22) puts people without housing in the same class as vermin is located at the north end of the Bowery, where low-income residents have been displaced by wealthy gentrifiers for decades.

By fixating on the supposed hardships faced by landlords, establishment outlets have pushed the idea that renters should bear the burden of runaway housing costs. To those who cannot afford this extortion, corporate media have been even less charitable.

The language of dehumanization

As wealthy urbanites continue their return to public life, corporate media have been saturated with laments over the increased visibility of homelessness in many of America’s largest cities. This type of coverage tends to characterize the presence of people without housing as an unsightly nuisance, in the same vein as vermin or uncollected garbage.

Indeed, to corporate media, the dispossession and dislocation of masses of people is largely an issue of urban aesthetics, rather than the intended material consequence of a housing system that keeps renters under the heel of landlords through the ever-present threat of eviction.

Tabloids like the New York Post have frequently published articles that dehumanize people experiencing homelessness. One such piece (10/1/22), titled “NYC’s Financial District Now Blighted With Spiking Crime, Vagrants,” included the line:

Unhinged hobos in particular have been terrorizing locals throughout the neighborhood.

In another Post article (7/30/22), headlined “NYC Park Near Cooper Union Turning Into ‘Disgusting’ Area Filled With Rats, Homeless,” a neighborhood resident complains:

It’s disgusting! I feel outraged about the garbage and the rats. Every bench is taken up by the homeless and nobody is doing anything about it.

Putting people who are unhoused in the same category as trash and vermin, the Post uses a kind of dehumanizing language typically peddled by the architects of genocide. Narratives of dehumanization—which portray individuals from targeted communities as dirty, disease-ridden or pest-like—often lay the groundwork for mass brutality.

Such rhetoric has been echoed by politicians aiming to impose further hardships upon those without homes, including former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who referred to people seeking shelter on New York City subways during the height of the pandemic as “disgusting.”

Voice of San Diego (9/16/22), a digital nonprofit outlet, quoted at length the rant of former basketball star Bill Walton, who claimed that,

while peacefully riding my bike early this Sunday morning in Balboa Park, I was threatened, chased and assaulted by the homeless population.

The multi-millionaire and self-professed “hippie” raged against San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria:

You speak of the rights of the homes [sic], what about our rights?… We follow the rules of a functioning society, why are others allowed to disregard those rules?… Your lack of action is unacceptable, as is the conduct of the homeless population.

The New York Times (2/16/22) presents “investments in rental housing” as “a key way to offset the pressure of inflation”—because landlords have been raising rents “at two to three times the rate of inflation.”

Like the Post, the Voice of San Diego piece stripped people experiencing homelessness of their individuality, treating them as one indistinguishable mass in phrases like “the conduct of the homeless population” and “assaulted by the homeless population.” The article concluded with a final lament from Walton:

You have given our bike paths and Balboa Park in our neighborhood to homeless encampments, and we can no longer use them, and they’re ours, this is unacceptable.

In publishing Walton’s diatribe, Voice of San Diego voiced the perspective of city dwellers made to feel uncomfortable by visual reminders of poverty in public spaces, the enjoyment of which they claim as their exclusive right.

Following the money

Corporate media’s eagerness to peddle narratives favorable to the propertied class is to be expected, since many establishment outlets have a vested interest in the continued growth of housing prices.

BlackRock—the world’s largest asset manager—owns 8.3% of the New York Times Company, making it the Times’ second-biggest institutional investor. BlackRock also holds around $68 billion in real estate assets, including an 8.5% share in Invitation Homes—a $24 billion publicly traded company that owns around 80,000 single-family rental units around the United States.

Invitation was created by another private equity firm, Blackstone, the largest corporate landlord in history, with real estate assets amounting to $320 billion. Shortly after Invitation launched in 2012, it proceeded to buy nearly 90% of the homes for sale in one Atlanta zip code. Such buying sprees are facilitated by the fact that institutional investors can secure loans at much lower interest rates than those offered to individual borrowers.

In a business section piece (2/16/22) covering Blackstone’s gargantuan real estate footprint, the Times did not mention the people that the asset manager—armed with massive stores of capital and low-interest loans—pushes out of the housing market by consistently buying up properties at well-above market rates. Instead, the article concluded:

Blackstone’s shares have been on a run lately. Its stock is up roughly 80% over the past 12 months.

Another Times article, headlined “The New Financial Supermarkets” (3/10/22), did reference Blackstone’s predatory buying strategy, but presented it in a favorable light. Blackstone president Jonathan Gray was given ample space to extol his company’s prospects:

As the real estate industry teetered after the mortgage crisis, Blackstone used its capital to buy up and rent housing and other real estate, amassing $280 billion in assets, which produce nearly half of the firm’s profits. As interest rates rise, Mr. Gray predicted, real estate will continue to help its performance. Rents in the United States, he noted, have recently risen at two to three times the rate of inflation.

| Vox 61121 tells us not to blame institutional investors for housing woeslike BlackRock and Vanguard which together own nearly 16 of Vox parent company Comcast | MR Online

Vox (6/11/21) tells us not to blame institutional investors for housing woes—like BlackRock and Vanguard, which together own nearly 16% of Vox parent company Comcast.

The Times presented rents rising at “two to three times the rate of inflation” as a precious opportunity, rather than a source of misery for millions of people. It’s not too different from the viewpoint of a “paid post”—that is, an ad designed to deceptively resemble Times copy—lauding Blackstone’s role in “shaping the future.”

‘Wall Street isn’t to blame’

Meanwhile, after a Twitter thread (6/8/21) that outlined the predatory home-buying practices of institutional investors went viral, corporate media were eager to defend their sources of capital. Vox(6/11/21) assured the public that “Wall Street Isn’t to Blame for the Chaotic Housing Market.” The article’s subheading chided readers that “the boogeyman isn’t who you want it to be.”

The Atlantic (6/17/21), using strikingly similar language, published an article headlined “BlackRock Is Not Ruining the U.S. Housing Market,” along with a subhead that read: “The real villain isn’t a faceless Wall Street Goliath; it’s your neighbors and local governments stopping the construction of new units.” Like Vox, the Atlantic admonished the masses:

If we have any chance of fixing the completely messed-up, unaffordable U.S. housing market, we should direct our ire toward real culprits rather than boogeymen.

According to this narrative, the true architects of the housing crisis are those standing in the way of private developers from building more units—all of whom are tarred as NIMBYs. While NIMBYism is oftentimes motivated by racist and classist interests, many communities have also opposed new development out of legitimate concerns over gentrification and displacement.

More than enough vacancies

This defense of developers and institutional landlords mounted by corporate media is undergirded by the false assumption that there is an acute shortage of housing units. In fact, in many U.S. cities, there are more than enough vacant units to provide homes for every individual and family currently living without permanent housing.

One recent report found that, “With more than 36,000 unhoused residents, Los Angeles simultaneously has over 93,000 units sitting vacant, nearly half of which are withheld from the housing market.” In New York, the quantity of vacant rent-stabilized units alone—estimated at around 70,000—is larger than the total population of individuals that currently reside within the city’s network of shelters.

These apartments remain unoccupied because many landlords have calculated that it is more profitable to keep rent-regulated units off the market than to refurbish or maintain—even to a minimum standard—homes rented out to tenants at below market rates.

At least 100,000 more New York apartments sit empty because their owners hold them for “seasonal, recreational or occasional use,” or simply use them as long-term investment chips that they never intend to occupy. This dynamic also exists in other cities around the country, particularly in the most expensive housing markets.

Corporate media’s sympathetic treatment of landlords, combined with its reflexive defense of developers and institutional real estate investors, is indicative of the fact that many establishment outlets have a financial stake in the real estate business.

The Atlantic, which like Vox jumped to defend the honor of institutional landlords, is majority owned by Emerson Collective—a venture capital firm whose founder and president is Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Powell Jobs, who possesses a fortune of over $16 billion, has invested large sums in real estate over the past five years.

Vox’s largest shareholder is Comcast, which owns nearly a third of Vox Media, Inc. The top two institutional investors in Comcast are, in turn, the aforementioned BlackRock (at 6.9%) and the Vanguard Group (at 8.7%). Vanguard has over $38 billion invested in real estate assets, and is also the largest institutional investor in the New York Times Company, owning 9.5% of its shares.

MR Online, October 24, 2022,