Thomas Barrack, the L.A.-based CEO of investment firm Colony NorthStar, was a big financial backer of President Donald Trump's campaign, and his enterprise collects rent from a lot of people in L.A. and across America. Forbes says Colony NorthStar is the fifth-largest real estate management firm in the world.
While Barrack has said Trump will "build a wall of understanding" with the electorate, some of the tenants of properties controlled by Colony NorthStar say the firm is not understanding them at all. That's according to grassroots organization Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), which seeks to improve the lives of low-income and immigrant communities in the state.
On Thursday ACCE will lead a demonstration outside Colony NorthStar's downtown headquarters. One tenant, Vanessa Bulnes, is traveling from her Oakland rental in order to protest what she argues is an unfair eviction attempt by the firm. She ran a daycare center out of her home but lost a long-held city child-care contract because Colony NorthStar refused to permanently fix an adjacent play area deemed to be environmentally hazardous, ACCE alleges.
We reached out to a publicist for Colony NorthStar but did not hear back.
Another Colony NorthStar tenant, Rosa Maria Alvaro, says she has complained about conditions at her $922-a-month South L.A. duplex for three years to no avail. Plumbing, including a leaking toilet, is substandard, some electrical outlets don't work and windows are broken, she says.
Peter Kuhns, a spokesman for the nonprofit ACCE, says Alvaro's home has been subject to the city's Rent Escrow Account Program (REAP), which can divert lease payments to an escrow account to give dwellers of allegedly substandard rentals a 10 to 50 percent reduction in rents while encouraging owners to make repairs.
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Alvaro, who has three children at home, says she also was concerned about the possibility that her interior walls were covered in lead paint, so she says she and her husband repainted the place themselves. "We've invested our own money and efforts into repairing the house," the 50-year-old says.
Barrack launched a Super PAC for Trump and chaired his inauguration committee. According to Hedge Clippers, a group critical of hedge funds and billionaires, the Barrack-led company that became Colony NorthStar gobbled up thousands of homes during the Great Recession's real estate crisis.
"Its business model is about extracting as much money out of tenants as possible," Kuhns says. "They are evicting some of our members."
According to an ACCE statement, "Colony is now one of California’s largest landlords, getting rich by buying foreclosed homes at a discount and then extracting as much rent out of them — with as low a maintenance cost — as possible."