New York Times Magazine Article; "A $60 Billion Housing Grab by Wall Street" - Hundreds of thousands of single-family homes are now in the hands of giant companies - squeezing renters for revenue and putting the American dream even further out of reach
Below is another recommended article entitled; "A $60 Billion Housing Grab by Wall Street". It reveals the large numbers of single-family homes snatched up by Wall Street Firms during the Great Recession. (Warning: It is a very long article.)
The article illustrates the appetite that Wallstreet and Big Real Estate have for investing in single-family homes. It brings home the real possibility that the 2020 housing legislation, which we have been opposing, could encourage real estate developers, real estate investment firms, and real estate rental corporations to buy up single-family homes, convert them to multifamily complexes (duplexes, fourplexes, and larger) and turn them into rental properties.
During the current recession, many households are falling behind on their mortgage payments. This could lead to many single-family homes being put on the market or else being foreclosed on and then being bought up by Big Real Estate (a repeat of the Great Recession), resulting in another Wall Street windfall at the expense of homeowner's loss of wealth equity.
Excerpt from CalMatters article by Senator Nancy Skinner entitled "Let's stop another Wall Street takeover of single-family homes":
"The Great Recession sparked a massive transfer of wealth in California and the rest of the nation. It happened on courthouse steps around the country when an estimated 5 million U.S. families lost their homes due to foreclosure. Many of those foreclosed homes were sold in bulk at auctions, and for the first time, large numbers of single-family homes were snatched up by Wall Street firms.
This corporate scheme led to Wall Street establishing a new and wildly profitable asset class, “single-family home rentals.” Today, big corporations own an estimated $60 billion worth of single-family housing in the United States."
Excerpt from the below article entitled "A $60 Billion Housing Grab by Wall Street":
" “Neighborhoods that were formerly ownership neighborhoods that were one of the few ways that working-class families and communities of color could build wealth and gain stability are being slowly, or not so slowly, turned into renter communities, and not renter communities owned by mom-and-pop landlords but by some of the biggest private-equity firms in the world,” says Peter Kuhns, the former Los Angeles director of the activist group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment."
A $60 Billion Housing Grab by Wall Street - Hundreds of thousands of single-family homes are now in the hands of giant companies - squeezing renters for revenue and putting the American dream even further out of reach
By Francesca Mari
Published March 4, 2020
had Ellingwood wasn’t really in the market for a home in the summer of 2006. But when his best friend came across an intriguing listing in Woodland Hills — a bedroom community in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley — the two men decided to visit on a whim.
Entering the property beneath the canopy of a grand deodar, Ellingwood, a big man with a gentle presence, felt as if he had been transported to a ranch house in Northern California, much like one he often visited as a child, all old growth and overgrown greenery — olive trees, citrus trees, sycamores and redwoods. He and his friend meandered past a pond to an inviting teal house built in 1958, “a whimsical masterpiece,” Ellingwood told me. Inside there was a “captain’s quarters” — a room designed to look like the hull of a boat with a built-in water bed and drawers — and numerous stained-glass windows that the couple who owned it had made themselves. The pièce de résistance depicted a faerie woman with flowing hair whose fingers turned into peacock feathers. Behind the house were a couple of small buildings, one of which was office-size — a meditation “Zen den,” Ellingwood thought. The other was an A-frame, Swiss-chalet-style granny unit above the garage, where the owner displayed a toy train collection.
“The house was not in amazing shape,” Ellingwood said. “It needed some help. But I loved it. I wanted it immediately.”
One of Ellingwood’s goals had always been to buy a house by the time he turned 30 — a birthday that unceremoniously came and went six months earlier. When Ellingwood began speaking to lenders, he realized he could easily get a loan, even two; this was the height of the bubble, when mortgage brokers were keen to generate mortgages, even risky ones, because the debt was being bundled together, securitized and spun into a dizzying array of bonds for a hefty profit. The house was $840,000. He put down $15,000 and sank the rest of his savings into a $250,000 bedroom addition and kitchen remodel, reasoning that this would increase the home’s value.
Suddenly adulthood was upon him. He married on New Year’s Eve, and his wife gave birth to their first child, a son, in April. When his 88-year-old grandfather, an emeritus professor of electrical engineering at the University of Houston, had a bad fall, Ellingwood urged him to move into the house for sale just across his backyard. The grandfather bought the house with his daughter, Ellingwood’s mother, and the first thing they did was tear down the fence between the two properties, creating one big family compound. In 2009, Ellingwood’s older sister bought a house around the corner.
But shortly after the birth of Ellingwood’s second son, in June 2010, his marriage fell apart. He and his wife each sued for sole custody. To pay his lawyer, he planned to refinance his house, and his grandfather advanced him his inheritance. By 2012, Ellingwood had paid his lawyer more than $80,000, and in the chaos of fighting for his children, he stopped making his mortgage payments. He consulted with several professionals, who urged him to file for bankruptcy protection so that he could get an automatic stay preventing the sale of his house.
In May 2012, Ellingwood was driving his two boys to the beach, desperate to make the most of his limited time with them, when he got a call. He pulled over and, with cars whizzing by and his boys babbling excitedly in the back seat, learned that he had lost his house. He had dispatched a friend to stop the auction with a check for $27,000 — the amount he was behind on his mortgage — but there was nothing to be done. Because Ellingwood began to file for bankruptcy and then didn’t go through with it, a lien was put on his house, his “vortex of love” as he called it, that precluded him from settling his debt. The house sold within a couple of minutes for $486,000, which was $325,000 less than what he owed on it.
In the months after, though, Ellingwood was graced with what seemed like a bit of luck. The company that bought his home offered to sell it back to him for $100,000 more than it paid to acquire it. He told the company, Strategic Acquisitions, that he just needed a little time to get together a down payment. In the meantime, the company asked him to sign a two-page rental agreement with a two-page addendum.
It was clear from the beginning that there was something a little unusual about his new landlords. Instead of mailing his rent checks to a management company, men would swing by to pick them up. Within a few months, Ellingwood noticed that one of the checks he had written for $2,000 wasn’t accounted for on his rental ledger, though it had been cashed. He called and emailed and texted to resolve the problem, and finally emailed to say that he wouldn’t pay more rent until the company could explain where his $2,000 went. For more than three months, he withheld rent, waiting for a response. Instead, the company posted an eviction notice to his door.
Ellingwood hired a lawyer and reported to the Santa Monica courthouse on his court date with all of his cashed checks in chronological order. When the judge called his case, the lawyer for Strategic Acquisitions asked to have a moment to review the paperwork. After marking each of Ellingwood’s checks off the accounting ledger, the lawyer concluded that the company had, in fact, erred. Strategic Acquisitions had grown so big so fast that it could barely keep its properties straight.
But it would only get bigger. Strategic Acquisitions was but one of several companies in Los Angeles County, and one of dozens in the United States, that hit on the same idea after the financial crisis: load up on foreclosed properties at a discount of 30 to 50 percent and rent them out. Rather than protecting communities and making it easy for homeowners to restructure bad mortgages or repair their credit after succumbing to predatory loans, the government facilitated the transfer of wealth from people to private-equity firms. By 2016, 95 percent of the distressed mortgages on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s books were auctioned off to Wall Street investors without any meaningful stipulations, and private-equity firms had acquired more than 200,000 homes in desirable cities and middle-class suburban neighborhoods, creating a tantalizing new asset class: the single-family-rental home. The companies would make money on rising home values while tenants covered the mortgages. When Ellingwood reached out to Strategic Acquisitions in the winter of 2013 to buy his house, it was no longer interested in selling. Ellingwood asked again a year later; the company didn’t reply.
Over the next seven years, Strategic Acquisitions would turn over management to Colony Capital, and Colony’s real estate holdings would merge with a series of companies, culminating in the Blackstone subsidiary Invitation Homes, making Invitation Homes the largest single-family-rental company in America, with 82,500 homes at its height — and 79,505 homes after Blackstone sold its shares at the end of last year. Ellingwood, however, could hardly distinguish among the various L.L.C.s he paid rent to: Strategic Property Management, Colony American Homes, Starwood Waypoint, Invitation Homes. The offices changed cities, downsized staff, hiked rents and imposed increasingly punitive fees. Ellingwood was required to submit his rent in different ways — online, certified mail, cashier’s check, in person — with slightly different rules, by the 1st, by the 3rd. The leases grew in length from four pages to 18 to 43 as the companies doubled down on strictures and transferred more responsibilities — mold remediation, landscaping, carbon-monoxide detectors — onto the renter.
Ellingwood didn’t know it at the time, but his story was to be the story of millions of renters around the country, the beginning of a downward spiral into the financial industry’s newest scheme to harvest money from housing.
Wall Street’s latest real estate grab has ballooned to roughly $60 billion, representing hundreds of thousands of properties. In some communities, it has fundamentally altered housing ecosystems in ways we’re only now beginning to understand, fueling a housing recovery without a homeowner recovery. “That’s the big downside,” says Daniel Immergluck, a professor of urban studies at Georgia State University. “During one of the greatest recoveries of land value in the history of the country, from 2010 and 2011 at the bottom of the crisis to now, we’ve seen huge gains in property values, especially in suburbs, and instead of that accruing to many moderate-income and middle-income homeowners, many of whom were pushed out of the homeownership market during the crisis, that land value has accrued to these big companies and their shareholders.”
Before 2010, institutional landlords didn’t exist in the single-family-rental market; now there are 25 to 30 of them, according to Amherst Capital, a real estate investment firm. From 2007 to 2011, 4.7 million households lost homes to foreclosure, and a million more to short sale. Private-equity firms developed new ways to secure credit, enabling them to leverage their equity and acquire an astonishing number of homes. The housing crisis peaked in California first; inventory there promised to be some of the most lucrative. But the Sun Belt and Sand Belt were full of opportunities, too. Homes could be scooped up by the dozen in Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Miami, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Denver — places with an abundance of cheap housing stock and high employment and rental demand. “Strike zones,” as Fred Tuomi, the chief executive of Colony Starwood Homes, would later describe them.
Jade Rahmani, one of the first analysts to write about this trend, started going to single-family-rental industry networking events in Phoenix and Miami in 2011 and 2012. “They were these euphoric conferences with all of these individual investors,” he told me — solo entrepreneurs who could afford a house but not an apartment complex, or perhaps a small group of doctors or dentists — “representing small pools of capital that they had put together, loans from regional banks, and they were buying homes as early as 2010, 2011.” But in later years, he said, the balance began to shift: Individual and smaller investor groups still made up, say, 80 percent of the attendees, but the other 20 percent were very visible institutional investors, usually subsidiaries of large private-equity firms. Jonathan D. Gray, the head of real estate at Blackstone, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms and the one with the strongest real estate holdings, thought he could “professionalize” the fragmented single-family-rental market and partnered with a British property-investment firm, Regis Group P.L.C., as well as a local Phoenix company, Treehouse Group. Blackstone “would show up with teams of people and would look for portfolio acquisitions,” recalled Rahmani, who works for the firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, known as K.B.W. (K.B.W. sold some shares of Invitation Homes during its public offering.)
Throughout the country, the firms created special real estate investment trusts, or REITs, to pool funds to buy bundles of foreclosed properties. A REIT enables investors to buy shares of real estate in much the same way that they buy shares of corporate stocks. REITs typically target office buildings, warehouses, multifamily apartment buildings and other centralized properties that are easy to manage. But after the crash, the unprecedented supply of cheap housing in good neighborhoods made corporate single-family home management feasible for the first time. The REITs were funded with money from all over the world. An investment company in Qatar, the Korea Exchange Bank on behalf of the country’s national pension, shell companies in California, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands — all contributed to Colony American Homes. Columbia University and G.I. Partners (on behalf of the California Public Employee’s Retirement System) invested $25 million and $250 million in the REIT Waypoint Homes. By the middle of 2013, private-equity companies had raised or spent nearly $20 billion on single-family real estate, and more than 100,000 homes were in the hands of institutional investors. Blackstone’s Invitation Homes REIT accounted for half of that spending. Today, the number of homes is roughly 260,000, according to Amherst Capital.
“There’s no way of looking at the ownership of properties and understanding who owns them ultimately,” says Christopher Thornberg, a founding partner of the research firm Beacon Economics. While Invitation Homes and American Homes 4 Rent became publicly traded REITs, as far we know “the big money is still in private equity,” he says. (Progress Residential and Main Street Renewal are two such companies.) “They are completely subterranean. They’ve got multiple layers of corporations within corporations within holding companies.”
Colony Capital, the Los Angeles-based private-equity firm run by the Trump megadonor Thomas J. Barrack Jr., didn’t have as much money as Invitation Homes. As a result, it was choosier, says Peter Baer, the founder and chief executive of Strategic Acquisitions, the company Colony contracted to acquire homes. From early 2012 to 2014, Strategic bought nearly 3,000 homes for Colony. Ellingwood’s home was one of the first. Baer told me he was instructed to buy “conventional product” in the price range of $300,000 to $600,000, typically three- or four-bedroom homes in good school districts that would be easy to rent — i.e., the types of homes desirable to first-time home buyers. Invitation Homes sought similar opportunities. (Some REITs developed software to evaluate public