Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Frances Fox Piven

Committee Members

David Harvey

Carolina Bank Muñoz

Subject Categories

American Politics | Civic and Community Engagement | Human Geography | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Regional Sociology | Sociology | Urban Studies and Planning


racial capitalism, urban, venture capital, public pensions, labor, right to the city


In this dissertation I analyze an institutional investor portfolio of over-leveraged multifamily rental housing in East Palo Alto, California to demonstrate how changing forms of landlordism produce both new and familiar targets for tenants organizing against displacement and for housing security. Venture capital investors in the first decade of the 2000s exploited the Silicon Valley regional conditions of racial exclusion, uneven development, and municipal rent control. I introduce the legacy of Black political organization in East Palo Alto as a way of contextualizing the tenants’ and the city leaders’ response to the monopoly investment purchase. The structure of this rental portfolio demonstrates the multiple actors involved in such large-scale residential investments, including institutional state pension funds, high-net worth individuals, local and international lenders, money managers, and the Security and Exchange Commission. The case study analysis considers how tenants, advocates, and a local union representing shareholders in the country’s largest pension, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), mobilized city and state officials to exert influence over these targets, focusing on the institutional investor in particular, albeit with limited success.

This case finds that venture capital investors backed by public pension funds exacerbated the escalating renter crisis in East Palo Alto, and elsewhere. I suggest that the findings from this case study, particularly those detailing the points of leverage available to tenants to target public pension funds, as well as the power of cities, bear lessons for tenants organizing in other large-scale multifamily rental portfolios and bundled scattered site single-family real estate owned (REO) foreclosure-to-rental portfolios. The analysis concludes by drawing from principles of housing security and offering what a coalitional, labor/community, racial justice politics for “the right to the city” might entail when taking into account changing conditions of investor landlordism.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Sunday, January 01, 2023

Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.

Non-GC Users:
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.