Blackstone is the largest commercial landlord in world history
Blackstone building

Are you struggling to pay rent in Columbus? Are those creeping student loan payments causing you anxiety? Is healthcare forcing you to pick up extra hours at work?

Well, good news! Your tax dollars are about to be going to work for you by going to an international developer with $1 trillion in assets to build less than 600 apartment rooms that have no guarantee to be affordable to anyone who doesn’t work downtown.

Blackstone, an international investment group owning more than 150 companies, was approved yesterday by Columbus City Council for re-zoning changes as a first step towards tax abatements. According to the Guardian, “Over the past two decades, (Blackstone) has quietly taken control of apartment blocks, care homes, student housing, railway arches, film studios, offices, hotels, logistics warehouses and datacentres.” They are the largest commercial landlord in world history.

If Blackstone is granted a tax abatement from City Council (which is a certainty given Council’s almost unblemished recording of always saying “yes” to developers) this means, for 10 years, this giant developer and landlord would not have to pay taxes on their new development along High Street near campus, taking money away from our schools to build housing focused on one thing and one thing only: lining their pockets with rent payments from Columbus residents already struggling to get by.

Blackstone’s development, which was voted down by the University Area Commission, an organization made up of residents of the area and Ohio State students, was approved by City Council almost unanimously after zero engagement with residents who came to the meeting to speak against the proposal. These residents, including a local teacher, didn’t get a single word from City Council as to their complaints.

Your tax dollars will go into the back pockets of international landlords who have been banned in some countries. Your tax dollars will be given to a company that has engaged in child labor right here in the United States. Your tax dollars will finance for-profit housing from a company worth tens of billions of dollars that has a track record of terrible treatment of its residents and actively promoted more evictions to raise their profits. This is how City Council thinks your tax dollars should be spent.

If the truly terrifying behavior of this company isn’t enough, the 10-6 “no” vote from the University Area Commission, those most directly affected by the predatory development, is itself enough to make City Council’s actions completely unacceptable. City Council, especially in the last year, has whined continuously about “Home Rule” and local control after overreaching actions by the state legislature, yet does not seem to care when they play the exact same game against local bodies in the city. It’s truly incredible how quickly progressive politics are abandoned when opportunities for a quick buck are found.

Watching the meeting where the re-zoning was approved, it’s clear what City Council’s argument is: the development is bringing “new housing” to the area, so of course it must be approved. If the bar for our housing policy is truly as low as “being new,” as Dorans in particular seems to be solely focused on in his closing arguments, the idea of Columbus as a successful city is dead. Is that all we care about, new housing? Not the condition of the housing or the inhumane actions of the people who will run the place? There isn’t a single care in the world for the people the new housing will service? All we care about is the space?

The development itself is going to be run by American Campus Communities (ACC), which is owned by Blackstone, and it’s clear that City Council wants to hide behind this subsidiary to protect themselves from the completely reasonable concerns over the behavior of Blackstone. City Council wants to make this all about ACC, but that, frankly, does not matter. Blackstone owns ACC. The actions of Blackstone, who literally own the place, are what matter. When Twitter makes stupid changes that do nothing for the users of the site, we do not yell at Twitter employees for implementing the change, we yell at the people in charge. That’s how companies work – the people with the money, literally owners, are to blame. The inadequacies and inhumane actions Blackstone engages in do not disappear behind the legal facade of property management – Blackstone is moving into our community, and City Council are about to hand them your tax dollars on a golden platter for almost no money down.

The complete abdication of City Council to do anything about predatory landlords moving into our city is the icing on the cake of our dying democracy in Columbus. City Council, more accurately described as the Columbus Landlord Committee, has abdicated any responsibility to serve its citizens. Our elected officials no longer manage the government on our behalf, they serve international developers and CEOs to increase company profits and maintain their perpetual hold on power with corrupt campaign donations. The Columbus people no longer have a representative government, we are now ruled over by party officials in the back pockets of big business, doing everything they can to destroy local democracy and increase the portfolios of their handlers.

The loyalties of Councilmembers are made clear by the simple structure of City Council meetings. When Blackstone came to Council, they were given not one, but two untimed opportunities to promote whatever company propaganda was handed down to them and parrot any buzzwords they thought would look good on TV. When residents came to speak against the invasion into our city, they were given just five minutes, and only five minutes, of speaking time – Council did not ask any questions or issue requests to learn more about why residents were concerned. Residents were given the opportunity to walk to the podium as City Council nodded their heads, pretended to care, and then go right back to hearing from the very people whose pockets were about to be lined with taxpayer money as to why that is a good idea, actually. It may be said that this is symbolic, the opportunity to speak before Council, and taking into account the amount of time people were able to speak as anything more than that is unreasonable. But voice is power. Having the ear of those making decisions is what political power is – if government officials don’t have to listen to you, you don’t have any power in politics. It’s as simple as that. That’s how power works. Giving residents only token opportunities to pop the cash-lined bubble that is high politics in Columbus while developers are given the floor any and all times that they want it, shows how completely democracy has fallen in Columbus. We are living in a shame democracy. When international developers are asked to spend more time in the Council’s ear, and in the public videos accessible to everyone, than literal residents of the city, this simple act alone shows where our government’s loyalty really lies. You know what they say, “Where the money comes, there too goes the loyalty.”

Blackstone is now in Columbus, and they will be given your tax money to use their predatory, inhumane business practices to increase the profits of CEOs not even living in Ohio. Taking your rent payments isn’t enough; big business has now come to take your tax dollars as well. And our so-called “representatives” just approved it by an overwhelming vote. How this can be called a democratic city is truly a question worth considering. Why, in a city being devastated by rent payments, tax handouts to absolutely massive corporations are handed out like candy without any real political pushback and seen as acceptable is completely beyond reason. The corruption of capitalism is being broadcasted right to our living rooms, and yet so many sit idly by completely disengaged from the political process. Big business knows they won’t receive any real pushback, and so they just go for it – decades of complete inaction from working people has shown them they can just get away with it.

Are we going to just keep letting them get away with it?