9 Profiles: Real Estate Activists

Online Publication: May 9, 2023 on Do Not Research (comment thread)
Print Publication: August 10, 2023 in Do Not Research 2022-2023

9 Profiles: Real Estate Activists
Seb Choe
Illustrations by @ieatdrywall

Why is the Rent Too Damn High? In the United States, the "housing crisis" is the new normal. Like a stock, housing has become a speculative asset that investors hoard, trade, and cash-in for profit. Our economy is dependent on the myth that housing (and rent) must always rise. The bailouts of 2008 demonstrated to what lengths our government will go when this myth is challenged. The mask of neoliberalism came off: rather than a free market and government in conflict, their shared interest was revealed - seeing housing value rise, regardless of reality.[1]

While most reeled from the crash, institutional investors seized an opportunity, realizing they could now out-bid private home buyers, oftentimes with cash[2]. Invitation Homes is now the largest private landlord in the country with 80,000 rental properties in its portfolio[3]. But wait, there's more! "Landchads" boast on Reddit about landowner supremacy and evicting "rentoids". For every unhoused person in New York City, there are three vacant units[4]. NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) prolongs a massive housing shortage, and the new units that are built, attract gentrifiers (who displace locals) and investors (who leave the units vacant)[5]. Planning ordinances like "inclusionary zoning" generate too-little "affordable housing" with years-long wait lists and ironically exclusionary income requirements. Developers receive subsidies and zoning exceptions, despite the fact that many of these affordable units evaporate into market-rate in as soon as 15 years[6]. The legacy of slavery, redlining and predatory inclusion lives on in nefarious forms that maintain oppressive systems like white supremacy. The pandemic poured gasoline on the fire.

Who will save us when the State and the Market have failed to provide us adequate housing? In the words of activist Grace Lee Boggs, "We are the leaders we've been waiting for."[7] What will be your role to play in the housing justice movement, as you join others in amplifying diverse approaches and forming a critical mass? Born too late to own property, born just in time to be a real estate activist. Choose your fighter, mix and match!

[1] Adrienne Buller and Mathew Lawrence, "Owning the Future: Power and Property in an Age of Crisis", A Crisis of Balance Sheets", Ch. 2: The Primacy of Property. Verso, 2022.

[2] Ryan Dezember, "If You Sell a House These Days, the Buyer Might Be a Pension Fund", Wall Street Journal. April 4, 2021. 1

[3] Invitation Homes, "Our Story"

[4] Jon Greenberg, Politifact, "Ocasio-Cortez: In New York City, there are 3 vacant apartments for each homeless person",

[5] National Association of Home Builders. 2020. "Housing Market Index: Special Questions." Accessed March 6, 2023.

[6]  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), "What Happens to LIHTC Properties After Affordability Requirements Expire?"

[7] Grace Lee Boggs, Interview with Bill Moyers, June 15, 2007.

Further Reading


  • Adrienne Buller and Mathew Lawrence, "Owning the Future: Power and Property in an Age of Crisis", Verso, 2022.

  • Amanda Kolson Hurley, Radical Suburbs, Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City, Belt Publishing. 2019.

  • David J. Madden and Peter Marcuse, In Defense of Housing, Verso Books, 2016.

  • Florian Hertweck (editor), Architecture on Common Ground: The Question of Land: Positions and Models, Lars Müller Publishers, 2020.

  • Jacobin, Paint the Town Red, Issue No 15-16. Fall 2014.

  • Keeanga Yamahhta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, UNC Press, 2019.

  • Julie Pedtke and Violet Whitney, Building Equities, Instagram (@building_equities), 2018.

  • Sascha Delz, Rainer Hehl, Patricia Ventura (editors), Housing the Co-Op: A Micro-political Manifesto, Ruby Press, 2020.

  • Tei Carpenter, Jesse LeCavalier, Dan Taeyoung, Chris Woebken, Julia Pyszkowski, Intentional Estates Agency, Printed Matter, 2019.

  • Tracy Rosenthal, "101 Notes on the LA Tenants Union", Commune Mag, Issue 5, Winter 2020.


  • Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

  • Center for Community Progress

  • East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative

  • Foundation for Intentional Community

  • Freedom Georgia Initiative

  • Picture The Homeless

  • r/loveforlandlords

  • Radical Real Estate Law School (Sustainable Economies Law Center)

  • Safer DIY Spaces

  • Sogorea Te Land Trust