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2020-03-08 — nytimes.com

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.

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.

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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."

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"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. Around Los Angeles, the companies scooped up properties in the majority-minority areas of South Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley and Riverside.

Landlords can be rapacious creatures, but this new breed of private-equity landlord has proved itself to be particularly so, many experts say. That's partly because of the imperative for growth: Private-equity firms chase double-digit returns within 10 years. To get that, they need credit: The more borrowed, the higher the returns.

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On yet another sunny Los Angeles day in late April, I drove inland to meet Chisholm [who runs an Invitation Homes consumer group Facebook] at a Panda Express on the side of Interstate 5. She is an anti-abortion, Trump-loving conservative Christian who prays every day for the demise of Invitation Homes. She wore a purple shirt, a flowing purple skirt and a silver cross toe ring. "Send" and "Me" -- representing Isaiah 6:8 -- were tattooed on her heels. "I am the biggest Trump supporter you are ever going to meet," she told me. "But this is one area he's furiously failing at. It's not like he doesn't know." Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone's chief executive, was once the chairman of the president's economic advisory council and remains a close adviser. The chief executive of Colony Capital, Thomas Barrack, was not only among the largest donors to President Trump's campaign but also served as chairman of his inaugural committee. Steven Mnuchin, now the Treasury secretary, bought the toxic debt of the failed California bank Indy­Mac with several other investors and, as chief executive and chairman, renamed the bank One­West and then foreclosed on more than 35,000 Californians, reaping government subsidies on nearly every one.

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