Wall Street’s “Predatory Equity” Rental Scheme

For Immediate Release

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Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Wall Street’s “Predatory Equity” Rental Scheme

WASHINGTON - LAURA GOTTESDIENER, lauragottesdiener at gmail.com, @Gottesdiener
Gottesdiener is the author of A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home. She just wrote the piece “When Predatory Equity Hit the Big Apple: How Private Equity Came to New York’s Rental Market — and What That Tells Us About the Future“, in which she writes, “Over the last few years, giant private equity firms have bet big on the housing market, buying up more than 200,000 cheap homes across the country. Their plan is to rent the houses back to families — sometimes the very same people who were displaced during the foreclosure crisis — while waiting for the home values to rise. But it wouldn’t be Wall Street not to have a short-term trick up its sleeve, so the private equity firms are partnering with big banks to bundle the mortgages on these rental homes into a new financial product known as ‘rental-backed securities.’ …

“Around 2005, private equity firms began amassing real estate mini-empires across [New York City], chasing outlandish projections of future profit. And when these deals started to fall apart, it was tenants, public pension funds, or the city that took the hit, while the private equity owners sometimes succeeded in walking away from the financial wreckage with cash in hand. …

“In that city, hundreds of thousands of apartment units were still designated as “rent regulated,” meaning that landlords were prohibited from dramatically raising the rent. The only significant way around that constraint for a landlord was to wait for a long-time tenant to move out. Then the rent could be raised to whatever the market would bear.

“To private equity firms, this dynamic seemed to offer a profit opportunity. All they had to do was buy up rent-regulated buildings and replace the current tenants with higher paying ones. …

“For tenants, these private equity purchases were essentially a lose-lose situation. For the deal to succeed, tenants had to be forced out. If, on the other hand, the deal failed and tenants got to stay, landlords immediately disinvested from the buildings, making the living conditions worse than ever. …

“Looking back, nothing may be more striking than the fact that when these predatory equity purchases blow up, the private equity firms themselves rarely seemed to lose all that much. In the collapse of the Stuyvesant Town deal, for example, BlackRock lost only $112 million. In other cases, the firms appear to have made money even though the deals failed.”

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