Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bad Landlords Buy Positive PR by Partnering with Community Organizations

This week at Tenants Together we learned of a community meeting soon to be held in East Palo Alto titled "Page Mill Properties and Local Nonprofits: Is Partnering Worth It?" hosted by One East Palo Alto (OEPA). The goal of the meeting is to have a discussion about whether or not community organizations should be accepting money from Page Mill Properties. Page Mill Properties is, of course, the notorious landlord that has bought up more that 50% of the city's rent controlled housing and has been systematically undermining the EPA rent control ordinance.

According to Matthew Fremont of the EPA's Fair Rent Coalition, over 1500 residents have been displaced due to Page Mill's evictions and steep rent increases in the past year and a half, with another 5000 more residents currently at risk. Not surprisingly, Page Mill's outrageous conduct has earned them a great deal of negative press and ill will within the East Palo Alto community.

In an apparent attempt to gain positive public relations, Page Mill Properties has given money to local noprofits and then widely publicized these donations with press releases, YouTube videos, etc. But does giving a few thousand dollars to a local organization, no matter how worthy the work of the organization, make up for the mass displacement of innocent tenants?
Re'anita Burns of Youth United for Community Action and EPA-based nonprofit asks, "Why should we partner with Page Mill when they're so negatively affecting the majority of their residents?"

page mill protest

"If Page Mill's goal is truly philanthropic, why not give anonymously? They're spreading money around to organizations but meanwhile they're showing their true colors with their excessive rent hikes and unfair evictions," says Chris Lund of the Fair Rent Coalition. "What they've done to the west side of the city, is simply tearing this community apart."

Page Mill isn't the first notorious landlord to use this transparent technique to buy positive PR. CitiApartments in San Francisco which bought up some 150 rental buildings in San Francisco and then became widely loathed for it's harrassment and mass eviction of tenants, announced in 2006 that it would rent three apartments at a cost of a dollar per year to "battle homelessness." 

But as Tommi Avicolli Mecca a tenant counselor at the Housing Rights Committee points out, "while they were making this PR gesture, they were forcing out long term tenants including some of the community's most vulnerable residents including seniors, and folks with HIV AIDS." 

In 2006, CitiApartments also supported One Warm Coat, "a non-profit organization which seeks to provide warmth to San Francisco residents in need. . . an easy and convenient way to provide any person in need with a warm coat, free of charge." Apparently the irony was lost on the PR team at CitiApartments that some of the recipients of those warm coats just may have been forced into the cold streets by the landlord's ruthless practices.

With funding for nonprofits becoming increasingly scarce, it must be tempting for organizations to consider taking money from almost any company willing to fund their worthy projects. However when these companies may be causing far more damage to the community then they can possibly make up for by assisting a few local organizations -- is, as the meeting title asks, the partnering worth it?

For folks interested in attending the meeting in East Palo Alto here are the details:

Page Mill Properties and Local Nonprofits: Is Partnering Worth It?

Monday, July 27, 2009, 11:30am - 1:00pm

OEPA's Office/Ravenswood Family Health Center/California Room

1798-B Bay Road, East Palo Alto, CA

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