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,

Opinion: The Time Is Now for a People-Powered Backlash / by Bill McKibben

Hundreds of young climate activists rally in Lafayette Square on the north side of the White House to demand that U.S. President Joe Biden work to make the Green New Deal into law on June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s decisions are insanely unpopular; we have to make that matter.

A reasonable reaction to the week’s Supreme Court rulings, which culminated in Thursday’s gutting of the Clean Air Act, would be: we are so screwed.

But there’s another way to look at it: we can turn the right-wing’s wet dream into a nightmare for them if we fight back. If we seize it, we have the best opportunity in many years for reconfiguring American politics.

The key thing to understand about these Supreme Court decisions is that they’re fantastically unpopular. On guns, on choice, and on climate the Court has taken us places Americans badly do not want to go. By majorities of two-thirds or more Americans detest these opinions; those are majorities large enough to win elections and to shape policy, even in our corroded democracy. The right, after decades of slow and careful and patient nibbling away at rights and norms is suddenly rushing full-tilt. That’s dangerous for us, but also for them. The force of that charge can, jiu jitsu-like, be turned against them.

To understand the possibilities, consider the Clean Air Act itself. It was signed into law in 1970 by Richard Nixon—a few months after the first Earth Day brought 20 million Americans into the streets, energy that carried over into the midterm elections. The Earth Day organizers targeted a ‘dirty dozen’ congressmen—and beat seven of them. Their political clout established, they were able to force Richard Nixon to sign all the most important environmental legislation in American history, even though Nixon cared not at all about the natural world. (Environmentalists were people “who wanted to go live like a bunch of damned animals,” he explained to the chairman of the Ford Motor company in an Oval Office meeting that he helpfully taped).

That first Earth Day was an organizable moment because the Cuyahoga River was on fire. Now the whole world is on fire. But, as David Wallace-Wells recently pointed out, we’ve been a little lulled and confused by the endless greenwashing and promises of our various corporate and government masters—the Larry Finks of the world.

The Court has done us a supreme favor by ripping away the veil. It is entirely clear that if we want to defend the planet (or a woman’s right to choose, or the right to a world where everyone isn’t packing a pistol), we’re going to have to fight. Their naked grab for power is succeeding—but it could still backfire if we set our minds to it.

What would that look like? In the short political term, a promise from every Democrat that they would overturn the filibuster and expand the Court if elected. We can’t get rid of every archaic part of our governmental structure, but the Constitution doesn’t get in the way of these changes. And they would liberate majorities to actually write policy and not see it struck down by the partisans that currently inhabit the bench,

As I suggested last week that it would be easiest if this fight was led by Joe Biden, perhaps on a train. Biden did, yesterday, say that he favored a “filibuster carve-out” to codify Roe into law, but saying it is not the same as campaigning for it. (Also, could he maybe figure out a less convoluted way of saying it). I confess: I suspect that Biden lacks the fire to lead this fight. He has done a creditable job of restoring some kind of normalcy to America after Ketchup Boy’s reign, but that’s a different task than really leading a crusade.

So we have to do it ourselves. The political commentator Josh Marshall has been using his website to try and get Senate candidates on the record about the filibuster; people should join that and similar efforts (July 4th recess is coming up, and with it town halls for politicians) and when candidates speak straightforwardly, we should rally behind them. The polling data shows a significant shift away from the GOP in the wake of the Roe ruling; our job is to make sure that continues, instead of fading away as we focus once more on inflation. Because the conventional wisdom a week ago was that the Democrats were going to get routed in the fall. If that doesn’t happen—and if the reason is that the GOP badly overreached—then there’s actually some chance of the Republicans recalibrating a tad and the Democrats finding a soul. Obviously it won’t be easy—all of the structural problems of our democracy are in the way. We have to fight for our lives while Wyoming and California each have two Senate seats and Citizens United is the law of the land. But it’s not impossible: our majorities on these issues are large enough to overwhelm even these archaic structures. Seventy percent is enough.

And if we somehow do get 52 seats in the Senate and hold the House? Then we need to make sure they actually do what we need them to. That time when Sunrise staged a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office? That was a good idea; Democratic leaders seem constantly sleepy, in need of a loud buzzer going off at intervals to wake them from their stupor. As Naomi Klein wrote of the Democrats yesterday, “if they decide to run with it, everybody on this planet wins. If they refuse, they deserve every loss coming their way.”

But the backlash can’t just be aimed at Washington. It has to go at Wall Street too. It’s the billionaires and the Chamber of Commerce and the banks and the oil companies that have funded this endless right-wing tilt, coming together time after time to support the end of regulations. As I wrote in the New Yorker after the decision, gutting the EPA was the logical endpoint of the campaign that Lewis Powell launched with his famous memo in 1971, shortly after the agency was proposed. (That’s why we’re taking on banks.)

Fury—nonviolently exercised, but with the force of a firehose—can change the political dynamic that has been sending us in a slow drift towards some variety of right-wing theocratic fascism. But we may not get more chances. This right now is the opening.

If you’re under 30, join the Sunrise Movement. If you’re over 60 throw in with us at Third Act. If you’re in between, find some people to fight alongside. These right-wingers have gotten giddy with success and dropped their guard. Make them pay.

This article was originally published on Bill McKibben’s substack.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of and His most recent book is “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?.” He also authored “The End of Nature,” “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet,” and “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.”

Common Dreams, July 2, 2022,