Gen Z Eying Real Estate Trends

photo by Thomas Tolkien

The Washington Post along with its content partner National Association of Realtors quoted me in Eye on the Future. It reads, in part,

The suburbs as we know them are in flux. Many of the country’s bedroom communities have traditionally been known for their single-family homes and a lack of walkable public spaces. That’s changing as condos, sprawling townhome complexes and apartment buildings now dot areas where single-family homes would have been built.  Developers are building walkable public spaces to accommodate young families leaving cities but still seeking urban-like amenities.

 Another wave of change is expected in the next five to 10 years. That’s when members of Generation Z-those born on the heels of millennials-will become homeowners. Experts say they’ll transform areas that are sandwiched between major cities and suburbs into districts with an urban feel and amenities, without the hefty price tags major metros demand.

That transformation is already starting to happen. “Many of our ‘suburbs’ are actually neighborhoods in Los Angeles, particularly the San Fernando Valley,” said Kathryn Bishop, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Studio City, Calif. and member of the National Association of Realtors. “In the Valley, many neighborhoods have become mini ‘cores.’ Sherman Oaks, Encino and Woodland Hills have office towers, good restaurants and night-life business creating their own city areas.”

It’s no surprise that the younger generation needs to find an alternative to the sky-high costs of urban living. The Economic Policy Institute noted in 2016 that folks who live in San Francisco face a cost of living that’s 52.9 percent above the national average. For New Yorkers, living costs were 49.4 percent higher. The country’s least-affordable place to live was Washington D.C., where residents faced costs 63.5 percent higher than the national average.

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“Since the financial crisis there has been an increase in multigenerational households, driven in large part by financial limitations and insecurity as well as by marital status and educational attainment,” said David Reiss, professor of law and research director at he Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.  “Young adults are more likely to live at their parent’s home in recent years than they have been for more than a century.”

NYC’s Housing Supply

The New York City Rent Guidelines Board (of which I am a member) released its 2017 Housing Supply Report. It has a lot of interesting data for housing nerds as well as those of us obsessed with NYC. Here is a taste:

  • There are a total of 3,217,521 units of housing.
  • 2,184,295 are rental units.
    • 848,721 are non-regulated rentals.
    • 1,335,574 are regulated rentals in one form or another (rent stabilized, rent controlled etc.)
  • 1,033,226 are owner units.
    • 116,134 are condos
    • 330,679 are coops
    • 586,413 are conventional homes.

Some other highlights include,

  • Permits for 16,269 new dwelling units were issued in NYC in 2016, a 71.2% decrease over the prior year and the first decrease since 2009.
  • There was a 31.3% decrease in the number of co-op or condo units accepted in 2016, to 282 plans containing 8,671 units.
  • The number of housing units newly receiving 421-a exemptions decreased 17.8% in 2016, to 4,493.
  • The number of housing units newly receiving J-51 abatements and exemptions decreased 22.5% in 2016, to 34,311.
  • The number of new housing units completed in 2016 increased 61.9% over the prior year, to 23,247.
  • Demolitions were down in 2016, decreasing by 2.0%, to 1,849 buildings.
  • City-sponsored residential construction spurred 23,408 new housing starts in FY 2016, 74% of which were rehabilitations.
  • The City-owned in rem housing stock declined 70.2% during FY 2016, to 125 units. (4)

For those who do not know the byzantine world of NYC housing policy, 421-a exemptions relate to new construction and J-51 abatements relate to renovation of existing construction. It is interesting to see how policy changes impact housing construction.

Any one year’s figures provide just a snapshot, so if you really want to get a sense of the big picture, you should check out the earlier reports too. For instance, last year’s report stated that there were permits for 56,528 new dwelling units in 2015, an increase of 176% from 2014.  This is way more than the long term trend. Permits for new dwelling units never got much higher than the low thirty thousand range but fell to a low as six thousand during the depths of the Great Recession.

When you realize that the 421-a tax abatement was set to expire at the end of 2015, this big jump in permits makes sense as developers filed a ton of permits to take advantage of the program while they could. It will be interesting to see how the new 421-a regime will impact permits for new construction going forward.

Reading the EB-5 TEA Leaves

Selena N. B. H.

Jeanne Calderon and Gary Friedland at the NYU Stern School of Business have posted What TEA Projects Might Look Like Under EB-5 2.0: Alternatives Illustrated with Maps and Data. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the EB-5 program, the authors provide some background:

Under the EB-5 Program, enacted in 1990, an immigrant who invests at least $500,000 or $1,000,000 in a specific U.S. business project is eligible for permanent residency, if the investment creates at least 10 American jobs.

These invested funds became an inexpensive source of patient, flexible capital for real estate development projects after the Great Recession in 2008. More recently, EB-5 capital has blossomed into a mainstream source of capital for real estate development projects. The immigrants’ pooled equity capital is contributed to an entity (known under the EB-5 law as a “New Commercial Enterprise” or “NCE”) typically created by an affiliated government-approved regional center. The proceeds are most commonly deployed as a mezzanine loan to a real estate project development entity (known under the EB-5 law as a “Job Creating Entity” or “JCE”). The immigrant’s motivation to make the investment is to qualify for the visa, and thus, he accepts interest rates well below market.

The original purpose of the EB-5 law was to create investments and jobs in rural areas, as well as high unemployment areas, referred to as “Targeted Employment Areas” (“TEA”). To encourage investments in these areas, the minimum investment in a project located in a TEA was set at a discounted level of $500,000, compared to $1,000,000 for a project not located in a TEA. Developers strive to have the location of their projects qualify as a TEA because immigrants seeking the EB-5 visa strongly prefer to invest in areas where the lesser minimum investment level applies, especially if they believe the investment will result in their receipt of a visa and a return of their capital investment.

Some members of Congress and other critics had become outraged by the growing trend of projects qualifying as TEAs that are located in thriving urban areas and commanding the lion’s share of EB-5 investment dollars. With the approval delegated to individual states, each of which was authorized to set its own rules and motivated to retain economic development within its own borders, projects in even the most affluent parts of the country were able to routinely qualify for the discounted investment level by combining contiguous census tracts (starting with the project site and often extending in unnatural configurations to remote sites miles away) until the weighted average met or exceeded the high unemployment threshold required by the law. This census tract aggregation is referred to pejoratively as “gerrymandering.” Thus, gerrymandering rendered the two level investment threshold meaningless and immigrants flocked to invest in luxury projects by major developers in urban areas. (4-5)

The authors conclude,

Congress should focus more attention on visa reserves and the types of projects that merit any special visa priority. As explained in the visa reserves section of this paper, immigrant investors are likely to place increasing importance on this issue in the near future as visa waiting periods rise. A project’s qualification for visa reserves might become as important a factor in the immigrant’s investment decision as the TEA status of a particular project. (48)

This type of program rubs many people the wrong way — Green Cards for Sale! — so it is important that is designed and implemented properly. As such, the authors make some valuable suggestions as to what EB-5 2.0 should look like.

Preserving Workforce Housing

"Affordable housing" by BrightFarm Systems

The Urban Land Institute has issued Preserving Multifamily Workforce and Affordable Housing: New Approaches for Investing in a Vital National Asset. Stockton Williams, the Executive Director of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, opens the report with a Letter from the Author,

Real estate investors seeking competitive returns increasingly view lower- and middle-income apartments as an attractive target for repositioning to serve higher-income households. In response, creative approaches are emerging for preserving the affordability of this critical asset class for its current residents and those of similar means—while still delivering financial returns to investors.

This report from the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing provides a broad-based overview of this rapidly evolving landscape. It profiles 16 leading efforts to preserve multifamily workforce and affordable housing, including below-market debt funds, private equity vehicles, and real estate investment trusts.

Collectively, the entities leading these efforts have raised or plan to raise more than $3 billion and have acquired, rehabilitated, and developed nearly 60,000 housing units for lower- and middle-income renters, with thousands of additional units in the pipeline. Several are actively raising more capital to expand their activities. They are meeting a pressing social need while delivering cash-on-cash returns to equity investors ranging from 6 to 12 percent.

The report is written with the following primary audiences in mind:

■ Developers and owners looking for new sources of capital to acquire, rehabilitate, and develop multifamily workforce and affordable properties;

■ Local officials and community leaders seeking options for attracting or creating new sources of financing to meet their rising rental housing needs for lower- and middle-income families; and

■ Real estate investors and lenders interested in more fully understanding their range of options for a product type that offers financial as well as social returns.

As the country continues to grapple with the worst housing crisis for lower- and middle-income renters it has ever known, the private sector and community-based institutions must play an ever-greater role in ensuring that existing affordable properties remain available to the many who need them, while doing what they can to produce new units where possible. The financing vehicles profiled here show what is possible and suggest opportunities for further progress. (iv)

I found Part II particularly useful, with its overview of financing vehicles. Many readers of this blog will benefit from a description of below-market debt funds, private equity vehicles and real estate investment trusts, particularly as they are illustrated with real world examples like the Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund, Avanath Capital Management and the Community Development Trust.

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

Housing out of Thin Air

NYU’s Furman Center has posted a policy brief, Creating Affordable Housing out of Thin Air: The Economics of Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning in New York City. It opens,

In May 2014, New York City’s new mayor released an ambitious housing agenda that set forth a multi-pronged, ten-year plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. One of the most talked-about initiatives in the plan was encapsulated in its statement, “In future re-zonings that unlock substantial new housing capacity, the city must require, not simply encourage, the production of affordable housing in order to ensure balanced growth, fair housing opportunity, and diverse neighborhoods.” In other words, the city intends to combine upzoning with mandatory inclusionary zoning in order to increase the supply of affordable housing and promote economic diversity. (1)
Inclusionary zoning, “using land use regulation to link development of market-rate housing units to the creation of affordable housing,” is seen by many as a low-cost policy to support a broader affordable housing approach. (2) There is a limit to the reach of such a program because developers will only build if the overall project pencils out, including any units of mandatory inclusionary zoning.
The policy brief’s conclusions are important:
In many neighborhoods, including some that the city has already targeted for the new program, market rents are too low to justify new mid- and high-rise construction, so additional density would offer no immediate value to developers that could be used to cross-subsidize affordable units. In these areas, inclusionary zoning will need to rely on direct city subsidy for the time being if it is to generate any new units at all regardless of the income level they serve.
Where high rents make additional density valuable, there is capacity to cross-subsidize new affordable units without direct subsidy, but the development of a workable inclusionary zoning policy will be complex. The amount of affordable housing the city could require without dampening the rate of new construction or relying on developers to accept lower financial returns or landowners to be willing to sell at lower prices will vary widely depending on a neighborhood’s market rent, the magnitude of the upzoning, and, to a lesser extent, on the level of affordability required in the rent-restricted units. Where developers must provide the required affordable housing, and whether they can instead pay a fee directly to the city, also bears heavily on the number of affordable units a mandatory inclusionary zoning policy has the potential to generate, but raises other difficult issues. (14-15)
The de Blasio Administration’s housing and land use team is very sophisticated (including the Furman Center’s former director, Vicki Been, now Commissioner at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development), so the City will be well aware of these constraints on a mandatory inclusionary housing program. Nonetheless, it will be of great importance to design a flexible program that can adapt to changing market conditions to ensure that such a program is actually a spur to new development and not merely a well-intentioned initiative.