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Organizers with the movement to universally forgive rent during the coronavirus pandemic rallied outside Blackstone Group and Kushner Companies buildings Friday, as part of a campaign to target some of the country’s most prominent real estate investors.
Members of the “cancel rent” movement — which helped orchestrate a wave of rent strikes across the U.S. this month — laid out “body bags” in front of a 53-story, luxury Kushner investment property in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Friday morning. They also held signs that called on the company to stop filing eviction lawsuits against its tenants in New Jersey and Maryland.
“We have worked closely with our residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to help in any way we can and, as with all owners in New Jersey,” Peter Febo, chief operation officer at Kushner companies, said in a statement. “Any type of legal action during these unprecedented times is a last resort only utilized in particular circumstances.”
At Blackstone’s headquarters in New York City, activists held banners saying “cancel the rent,” similar to the ones they had draped across the city’s bridges and buildings earlier Friday. Protesters also staged a “die-in” by laying on the pavement outside the company’s office, to represent the tenants they said would perish from evictions or debt. A United Nations advisor claimed last year the private equity firm was contributing to a global affordable housing crisis, which the company disputed.
Blackstone did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment about the protests.
Organizers also went to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive mansion in Albany, tying a “cancel rent” banner to the fence. Separate activist groups went to Mosser Capital in Oakland and Trump Tower in Las Vegas.
The “cancel rent” protesters have said in recent days that they’re turning their attention toward the corporate real estate behemoths they believe should bail out small, suffering landlords and renters during the economic downturn. Their escalation comes right before June 1, too, when scores of tenants are expected to miss payments and potentially strike — again.
“They have profited handsomely from the last foreclosure crisis, the commodification of housing, and decades of racist housing policy, while actively lobbying to avoid paying their fair share in taxes for decades,” organizers wrote of investors like Blackstone and Kushner Properties in a report released this week by the Action Center on Race & the Economy ahead of Friday’s demonstrations. “The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified what we already knew: Corporate landlords’ bill is long past due.”
In that report, activists said they want Congress and state governments to demand that real estate magnates “pay for the cancellation of rent, mortgages, and utilities,” on top of relief for small property owners. Such companies have received extensive breaks, they wrote, and “can afford it.” And the coronavirus stimulus package included $170 billion in tax savings for real estate investors over the next decade, according to the New York Times.
Cover: A sign with the message to cancel rent is displayed from a vehicle as a caravan of May Day protesters drives up 2nd Avenue outside the offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Friday, May 1, 2020, in the Manhattan borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)