Noisy picketers bashing pots and pans and playing musical instruments while holding various banners massed outside The Blackstone Group’s Park Avenue headquarters in New York for a second time in as many months on Tuesday.
Around 40 people with placards such as “Blackstone = Vulture funds”, “Stop “Blackstone # Blackstoneevicts” and one with a four-letter expletive directed against the firm assembled at the bottom of steps at the 345 Park Avenue address, watched over by two security personnel. The group also projected an image of a vulture on the facade of the building.
It was the second time the group had protested outside the offices, having also staged a similar protest in the middle of February.
The protestors are part of a movement by Spanish-speaking people who claim the firm is raising rents and/or costs at rental properties in Spain and foreclosing on properties. Other protests have taken place in San Francisco, Madrid, Barcelona and London, with organizers vowing to step-up their activities internationally. Indeed this week, activists were outside Blackstone's offices in London where they read a statement. In Barcelona, meanwhile, a meeting was demanded with representatives of the company while protestors also gathered in Madrid. Further, groups occupied and blocked offices of Catalunya and BBVA bank condemning sales of “toxic mortgages” to “vulture funds”.
Thus far, the gatherings have been peaceful. They are being co-ordinated by Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) (Platform for People Affected by Mortgages), a Spanish grassroots organization that takes direct action to stop evictions and campaigns for housing rights.
This week’s protest in New York was slightly larger than the one that took place in February and this time involved the New York Communities for Change (NYCC), a non-profit group based in Brooklyn that says it represents 45,000 low and moderate income families in the City of New York and on Long Island. “By using direct action, legislative advocacy, and community organizing, NY Communities' members work to impact the political and economic policies that directly affect us,” says its slogan.
Blackstone owns around 5,000 rental units in Spain and is seeking to close a deal to invest around €3.6 billion for the ‘Hercules’ portfolio of residential loans and real estate properties with a book value of €6.4 billion from the bailed-out Catalunya Banc.
Upon the first wave of protests, the company’s head of public affairs, Peter Rose, defended the company. He said Blackstone had only asked 11 tenants (less than 0.25 percent) to leave their home and that was only after extensive negotiation. “We have put in place extensive protections and processes to protect tenants. We are spending capital on the properties and hiring people in Spain with a focus on improving the experience of our tenants through improving the properties and services. We are not increasing rents to force people out of their homes. This is another totally false allegation.”
PAH and affiliated organizations are using social media to highlight their claims and criticisms of firms such as Blackstone. Marea Granate Nueve York, which was involved in Tuesday’s protest at Blackstone’s HQ, hosts a Facebook page called “STOP Blackstone”. That page says: “PAH Activists in Barcelona invite us to join an international action against Blackstone Group LP, the world's largest private equity firm. We want to visualize that this is a global fight against Blackstone that speculates with our right to housing. We are not going to allow Blackstone to keep evicting our families. STOP EVICTIONS! STOP BLACKSTONE! SI SE PUEDE!”
The protests have been covered by television, mainstream news outlets, both national and international.
PAH said in a statement: “The PAH will not rest until Blackstone cancels the sale of Catalnya Banca or it offers immediate solutions to the hundreds of families that are affected.” It added: “The Platform for People Affected by Mortgages has demonstrated that the struggle for the right to housing can be a global one. We will not rest until Blackstone’s talons get off our homes, and if Blackstone holds its grip, more cities and countries are ready to join the fight against this international predator. We outnumber you, we’re organized and we won’t stop. We will be victorious because for six years now we’ve known that ¡Sí Se Puede! (It’s Possible).”