Single-Family Rental Securitizations Here To Stay?

photo by David McBee

Kroll Bond Rating Agency has released Single-Borrower SFR: Comprehensive Surveillance Report. It has lots of interesting tidbits about this new real estate finance sector (it has only been four years since its first securitization):

  • Six single-family rental operators own nearly 180,000 homes. (3)
  • Of the 33 SFR securitizations issued to date ($19.2 billion), nine deals ($4.6 billion) have been repaid in full without any interest shortfalls or principal losses. (4)
  • the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which regulates Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, announced that it had authorized Freddie Mac to enter the single-family rental sector on a limited basis to provide up to $1.0 billion of financing or loan guarantees. Freddie Mac reportedly is expected to focus on small-scale and midsize landlords that invest in SFR properties that the GSE considers to be affordable rental housing, not institutional issuers such as Invitation Homes, which owns and manages nearly 50,000 SFR properties. (5)
  • The largest five exposures account for 39.4% of the properties and include Atlanta (11,822 homes; 13.0%), which represents the CBSA with the greatest number of properties, followed by Tampa (6,374; 7.0%), Dallas (6,199; 6.8%), Phoenix (5,780; 6.3%), and Charlotte (5,733; 6.3%). (6)
  • The highest home price appreciation since issuance was observed in CAH 2014-1, at 30.7%. On average, collateral homes included in the outstanding transactions issued during 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 have appreciated in value by 25.0%, 18.0%, 8.7% and 3.2%, respectively. It is worth noting that the rate of the home price appreciation on a national basis and in the regions where the underlying homes are located has slowed in recent years. (7)
  • Since issuance, the underlying collateral has generally exhibited positive operating performance with the exception of expenses. Contractual rental rates have continued to increase, vacancy and tenant retention rates have remained relatively stable, and delinquency rates have remained low. Servicer reported operating expenses, however, continue to be higher than the issuer underwritten figures at securitization. (7)

Analysts did not believe that single-family rentals could be done at scale before the financial crisis. But investors were able to sweep up tens of thousands of homes on the cheap during the foreclosure crisis and the finances made a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how this industry matures with home prices appreciating and expenses rising. I am not making any predictions, but I wonder when it will stop making sense for SFR operators to keep buying new homes.

Rental Housing Landscape

A Row of Tenements, by Robert Spencer (1915)

NYU’s Furman Center released its 2017 National Rental Housing Landscape. My two takeaways are that, compared to the years before the financial crisis, (1) many tenants remain rent burdened and (2) higher income households are renting more. These takeaways have a lot of consequences for housing policymakers. We should keep these developments in mind as we debate tax reform proposals regarding the mortgage interest deduction and the deduction of property taxes. When it comes to housing, who should the tax code be helping more — homeowners or renters?

The Executive Summary of the report reads,

This study examines rental housing trends from 2006 to 2015 in the 53 metropolitan areas of the U.S. that had populations of over one million in 2015 (“metros”), with a particular focus on the economic recovery period beginning in 2012.

Median rents grew faster than inflation in virtually every metro between 2012 and 2015, especially in already high rent metros.

Despite rising rents, the share of renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent (defined as rent burdened households) fell slightly between 2012 and 2015, as did the share spending more than 50 percent (defined as severely rent burdened households). Still, these shares were higher in 2015 than in 2006, and far higher than in earlier decades.

The number and share of renters has increased considerably since 2006 and continued to rise in virtually every metro from 2012 to 2015. Within that period, the increase in renter share was relatively larger for high socioeconomic status households. That said, the typical renter household still has lower income and less educational attainment than the typical non-renter household.

Following years of decline during the Great Recession, the real median income of renters grew between 2012 and 2015, but this was primarily driven by the larger numbers of higher income households that are renting and the increasing incomes of renter households with at least one member holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. The real median income of renter households with members with just a high school degree or some college grew more modestly and remained below 2006 levels in 2015.

Thus, the recent decline in the share of rent burdened households should be cautiously interpreted. The income of the typical renter household increased as the economy recovered, but part of this increase came from a change in the composition of the renter population as more high socioeconomic status households chose to rent their homes.

For almost every metro, the median rent in 2015 for units that had been on the market within the previous year was higher than that for other units, suggesting that renters would likely face a rent hike if they moved. The share of recently available rental units that were affordable to households earning their metro’s median income fell between 2012 and 2015. And in 2015, only a small share of recently available rental units were affordable to households earning half of their metro’s median income. (3, footnote omitted)

Securitizing Single-Family Rentals

photo by SSobachek

Laurie Goodman and Karan Kaul of the Urban Institute’ Housing Finance Policy Center have issued a a paper on GSE Financing of Single-Family Rentals. They write,

Fannie Mae recently completed the first government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) securitization of single-family rental (SFR) properties owned by an institutional investor. This securitization, Fannie Mae Grantor Trust 2017-T1, was for Invitation Homes, one of the largest institutional players in the SFR business. When this transaction was first publicly disclosed in January as part of Invitation Homes’ initial public offering, we wrote an article describing the transaction and detailing some questions it raises. Now that the deal has been completed and more details have been released, we wanted to look closely at some of its structural aspects, examine the need for this type of financing, and discuss SFR affordability. (1, citations omitted)

By way of background, the paper notes that

The 2015 American Housing Survey indicates that approximately 40 percent of the US rental housing stock is in one-unit, single-family structures, with another 17 percent in two- to four-unit structures, which are also classified as single-family. Thus, 57 percent of the US rental stock falls under the single-family classification. Although this share increased from 51 percent in 2005 to 57 percent in 2015, this increase was preceded by an almost identical decline from 56.6 percent in 1989 to 51 percent in 2005.

Most SFR properties are owned by mom and pop investors. These purchases were typically financed through the GSEs’ single-family business. Fannie Mae allowed up to 10 properties in the name of a single borrower, and Freddie Mac allowed up to six properties. Rent Range estimates that 45 percent of all single-family rentals are owned by small investors with only one property and 85 percent are owned by those who own 10 or fewer properties. So the GSEs cover 85 percent of the single-family rental market by extending loans to small investors through single-family financing. Of the remaining 15 percent, 5 percent is estimated to be owned by players with over 50 units, and just 1 percent is owned by institutional SFR investors with more than 1,000 properties.

Institutional investors, such as Invitation Homes, entered the SFR market in 2011. Entities raised funds and purchased thousands of foreclosed homes at rock-bottom prices and rented them out to meet the growing demand for rental housing. Then, they built the expertise, platforms, and infrastructure to manage scattered-site rentals. Changes in the business model have required these entities to search for financing alternatives.(1-2, citations omitted)

The paper concludes that “Invitation Homes was an important first transaction—it allowed Fannie Mae to learn about the institutional single-family rental market by partnering with an established player.” (9) It also notes a number of open questions for this growing segment of the rental market: should there be affordability requirements that apply to GSE financing of SFRs and should SFRs count toward meeting GSEs’ affordable housing goals?

That there would be an institutional SFR market sector was inconceivable before the financial crisis. The fire sale in houses during the Great Recession created an opening for institutional investors to enter the single-family rental market.  It is now a small but growing part of the overall rental market. It is important that policy makers get ahead of the curve on this issue because it is likely to effect big changes on the entire housing market.

The Gap in Affordable Homes

photo by Kenneth Frantz

The National Low Income Housing Coalition posted a report, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes. The report opens,

For the first time since the recession, U.S. household income increased significantly during 2015. Gains were seen even among the lowest income households, with the poverty rate declining from 14.8% to 13.5%. Millions of people, however, continue to struggle economically. Household income for the poorest 10% of households remains 6% lower today than in 2006, and more than 43 million Americans remain in poverty, many of whom struggle to afford their homes.

Each year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) measures the availability of rental housing affordable to extremely low income (ELI) households and other income groups. This year’s analysis is slightly different from previous years in that NLIHC adopted the federal government’s new statutory definition for ELI, which are households whose income is at or below either the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income (AMI), whichever is higher. Based on 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) data, this report provides information on the affordable housing supply and housing cost burdens at the national, state, and metropolitan levels. This year’s analysis continues to show that ELI households face the largest shortage of affordable and available rental housing and have more severe housing cost burdens than any other group. (2, citations omitted)

The report’s key findings include:

• 11.4 million ELI renter households accounted for 26% of all U.S. renter households and nearly 10% of all households.

• The U.S. has a shortage of 7.4 million affordable and available rental homes for ELI renter households, resulting in 35 affordable and available units for every 100 ELI renter households.

• Seventy-one percent of ELI renter households are severely cost-burdened, spending more than half of their income on rent and utilities. These 8.1 million severely cost-burdened households account for 72.6% of all severely cost-burdened renter households in the U.S.

• Thirty-three percent of very low income (VLI) renter households; 8.2% of low income (LI) renter households, and 2.4% of middle income (MI) renter households are severely cost-burdened.

• ELI renter households face a shortage of affordable and available rental homes in every state. The shortage ranges from just 15 affordable and available homes for every 100 ELI renter households in Nevada to 61 in Alabama.

• The housing shortage for ELI renters ranges from 8,700 rental homes in Wyoming to 1.1 million in California. (2)

It is of course important to talk about this gap as an affordable housing issue, but as I have written before, it is as much an income problem as a housing problem. It’s not just that the rent is too damn high, but that the paycheck is just too damn low.

I don’t see anything on the political horizon that will address this fundamental set of problems, but we should at least identify it properly so we can work toward a solution when the time is right.

New Landlord in Town

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in "It's A Wonderful Life"

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life”

Bloomberg quoted me in Wall Street, America’s New Landlord, Kicks Tenants to the Curb. It opens,

On a chilly December afternoon in Atlanta, a judge told Reiton Allen that he had seven days to leave his house or the marshals would kick his belongings to the curb. In the packed courtroom, the truck driver, his beard flecked with gray, stood up, cast his eyes downward and clutched his black baseball cap.

The 44-year-old father of two had rented a single-family house from a company called HavenBrook Homes, which is controlled by one of the world’s biggest money managers, Pacific Investment Management Co. Here in Fulton County, Georgia, such large institutional investors are up to twice as likely to file eviction notices as smaller owners, according to a new Atlanta Federal Reserve study.

“I’ve never been displaced like this,” said Allen, who said he fell behind because of unexpected childcare expenses as his rent rose above $900 a month. “I need to go home and regroup.”

Hedge funds, large investment firms and private equity companies helped the U.S. housing market recover after the crash in 2008 by turning empty foreclosures from Atlanta to Las Vegas into occupied rentals.

Now among America’s biggest landlords, some of these companies are leaving tenants like Allen in the cold. In a business long dominated by mom-and-pop landlords, large-scale investors are shifting collections conversations from front stoops to call centers and courtrooms as they try to maximize profits.

“My hope was that these private equity firms would provide a new kind of rental housing for people who couldn’t — or didn’t want to — buy during the housing recovery,” said Elora Raymond, the report’s lead author. “Instead, it seems like they’re contributing to housing instability in Atlanta, and possibly other places.”

American Homes 4 Rent, one of the nation’s largest operators, and HavenBrook filed eviction notices at a quarter of its houses, compared with an average 15 percent for all single-family home landlords, according to Ben Miller, a Georgia State University professor and co-author of the report. HavenBrook — owned by Allianz SE’s Newport Beach, California-based Pimco — and American Homes 4 Rent, based in Agoura Hills, California, declined to comment.

Colony Starwood Homes initiated proceedings on a third of its properties, the most of any large real estate firm. Tom Barrack, chairman of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, and the company he founded, Colony Capital, are the largest shareholders of Colony Starwood, which declined to comment.

Diane Tomb, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, which represents institutional landlords, said her members offer flexible payment plans to residents who fall behind. The cost of eviction makes it “the last option,” Tomb said. The Fed examined notices, rather than completed evictions, which are rarer, she said.

“We’re in the business to house families — and no one wants to see people displaced,” Tomb said.

According to a report last year from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, a record 21.3 million renters spent more than a third of their income on housing costs in 2014, while 11.4 million spent more than half. With credit tightening, the homeownership rate has fallen close to a 51-year low.

In January 2012, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke encouraged investors to use their cash to stabilize the housing market and rehabilitate the vacant single-family houses that damage neighborhoods and property values.

Now, the Atlanta Fed’s own research suggests that the eviction practices of big landlords may also be destabilizing. An eviction notice can ruin a family’s credit and make it more difficult to rent elsewhere or qualify for public assistance.

Collection Strategy?

In Atlanta, evictions are much easier on landlords. They are cheap: about $85 in court fees and another $20 to have the tenant ejected, according to Michael Lucas, a co-author of the report and deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. With few of the tenant protections of places like New York, a family can find itself homeless in less than a month.

In interviews and court filings, renters and housing advocates said that some investment firms are impersonal and unresponsive, slow to make necessary repairs and quick to evict tenants who withhold rent because of complaints about maintenance. The researchers said some landlords use an eviction notice as a “routine rent-collection strategy.”

Aaron Kuney, HavenBrook’s former executive director of acquisitions, said the companies would rather keep their existing tenants as long as possible to avoid turnover costs.

But “they want to get them out quickly if they can’t pay,” said Kuney, now chief executive officer of Piedmont Asset Management, a private equity landlord in Atlanta. “Finding people these days to rent your homes is not a problem.”

Poor Neighborhoods

The Atlanta Fed research, based on 2015 court records, marks an early look at Wall Street’s role in evictions since investment firms snapped up hundreds of thousands of homes in hard-hit markets across the U.S.

Researchers found that evictions for all kinds of landlords are concentrated in poor, mostly black neighborhoods southwest of the city. But the study found that the big investors evicted at higher rates even after accounting for the demographics of the community where homes were situated.

Tomb, of the National Rental Home Council, said institutional investors at times buy large blocks of homes from other landlords and inherit tenants who can’t afford to pay rent. They also buy foreclosed homes whose occupants may refuse to sign leases or leave.

Those cases make the eviction rates appear higher than for smaller landlords, according to Tomb, whose group represents Colony Starwood, American Homes 4 Rent and Invitation Homes. The largest firms send notices at rates similar to apartment buildings, which house the majority of Atlanta renters.

Staying Home

Not all investment firms file evictions at higher rates. Invitation Homes, a unit of private equity giant Blackstone Group LP that is planning an initial public offering this year, sent notices on 14 percent of homes, about the same as smaller landlords, records show. In Fulton County, Invitation Homes works with residents to resolve 85 percent of cases, and less than 4 percent result in forced departures, according to spokeswoman Claire Parker.

The Fed research doesn’t say why many institutional investors evict at higher rates. It could be because their size enables them to negotiate less expensive legal rates and replace renters more quickly than mom-and-pop operators.

“Lots of small landlords, when they have good tenants who don’t cause trouble, they’ll work with someone who has lost a job or can’t pay for the short term,” said David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in residential real estate.

2-4 Unit Properties: Housing’s Middle Child

photo by Kgbo

The Urban Institute’s Laurie Goodman and Jun Zhu have posted Do Two- to Four-Unit Properties Have Higher Credit Risk? An Analysis of Default and Loss Experience to SSRN. The abstract reads,

Two- to four-family properties make up 19% of all rental housing but receive almost no attention. Using a unique dataset from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, we show that, for any given set of loan characteristics and compared with one-unit properties, two- to four-unit properties are more likely to default, its owner-occupied (investment) properties are less (more) likely to liquidate, and all two- to four-unit properties are more likely to have a higher loss severity upon liquidation. Historically, these patterns have led to higher losses on two- to four-unit loans. Current tighten credit results in loss rates much closer to those on one-unit owner-occupied properties, indicating that policymakers can relax the credit requirements of two-to-four properties to better serve affordable rental housing.

It is great that the authors are looking at the neglected, middle child of the rental housing market. Providing 19% of the rental housing stock is nothing to sneeze at, even if other segments of the housing stock provide more.

It is particularly interesting to me that owner-occupied 2-4s do better than investor-owned 2-4s in terms of liquidation, even while overall 2-4s are roughly on par with 1-unit owner occupied properties in that regard. There are a lot of other interesting tidbits about this housing stock in the paper, such as the fact that these properties are more likely to be owned by lower-income households and that 2-units have the highest default rates of 1-4 unit properties.

The authors make the case that

though predicted losses on two- to four-unit production are now on par with one-unit owner-occupied properties, the low volume suggests that many borrowers (who are disproportionately likely to be low and moderate income and minority) are getting squeezed out. In the interest of expanding credit to these underserved populations and expanding, or at least preserving, the supply of affordable rental housing, the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) could relax the current loan-to-value requirements. If this relaxing were coupled with counseling for landlords, we believe it would make financing more available for this critical part of the market, with little additional risk to the GSEs. (3)

This all sounds good, although I am somewhat skeptical of the claim that reduced financing costs for owners will be passed onto tenants in the form of lower rents or rent increases. There are a lot of factors that go into rent levels, and costs are just one of them. The local demand for housing as well as the competing supply cannot be ignored. Owners may be able to keep all of those reduced financing costs as additional profits, depending on those local conditions.

The main question I am left with after reading the paper is — why haven’t Fannie and Freddie, whose data the paper is based upon, already reached the same conclusion about loosening credit for this type of housing? Do they know something about it that the author’s don’t?

Comparing Rental Housing Across the Atlantic

photo by Tiago Fioreze

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies has released a working paper, Rental Housing: An International Comparison. The abstract reads,

This report compares rental housing in 12 countries in Europe and North America, using individual records from household surveys. Differences in housing characteristics, conditions, and costs across countries reflect a number of factors, including demographics, geography, culture, and government policies. A lack of comparable data can make international comparisons difficult to execute, but such analysis is valuable for understanding and contextualizing differences in affordability and other characteristics of renter households and housing.

The analysis revealed the US, along with Spain, as notably unaffordable for renter households, based on a number of measures. The greater apparent cost burdens reflected a variety of factors, including differences in characteristics of the housing stock and differences in tax burdens, as well as measurement problems.

However, two major influences – differences in the size and availability of housing allowances and the degree of income inequality – emerged as the main drivers of differences in housing affordability. The effects of supply-side factors such as the extent of social housing supply, supply subsidies, and rent controls were unclear, due to problems with the identification and description of below-market rentals in the household survey data. (1)

The housing stock and political context is so different among countries, but this type of analysis is still very useful and can offer valuable lessons to the United States:

One factor that appears to contribute to the pervasive affordability problems in the US is the degree of income inequality. That is not a feature of the housing market per se, but there may be opportunities to address the consequences of income inequality through appropriate housing policies.

Other countries have devoted more resources to ameliorating the problems of unaffordable housing. The US provides fairly generous housing benefits to only a small share of needy households. In the UK, a broadly available system of housing allowances offsets what would otherwise be a much more severe affordability problem than exists in the US. In other countries, affordable rental housing supplied by governments or nonprofits helps to address affordability issues, although the efficiency of that practice, relative to the provision of housing allowances, has been questioned, as it has been in the US. The EU-SILC data used in this analysis did not adequately identify or describe below-market-rate housing, making it impossible to adequately assess the effects of such housing.

The somewhat larger size and perhaps higher quality of units in the US rental stock also affects relative affordability, although relative quality and its effect on cost differences are difficult to assess using the available data. The large share of single-family detached rentals in the US reflects preferences, the demographic mix among renters, land availability, etc., but it could also reflect zoning and other regulations limiting the supply of less expensive multifamily rentals. It is hard to imagine that regulations are more stringent in the US than in some of the more dirigiste nations of Europe, but regulations elsewhere may dictate, rather than constrain, density and cost reductions. The size and quality of the housing occupied by low-income renters in the US reflect the fact that most of those units were originally built for owner occupancy or for higher-income renters. That’s probably true in other countries as well. Whether the extent of such filtering is greater or less in various countries is perhaps worth exploring in the future. (37-38)

Income inequality, housing subsidies and land use reform — the report hits on a trifecta of key issues that housing policy should be dealing with. While I do not see much of an appetite for major reform of the first two items in today’s political climate, there might be support for some loosening of land use restrictions on housing construction. I wonder if there is some room for movement on that third front. Can local jurisdictions be incentivized by the federal government to build more housing?