Hedge funds, private equity firms, and investment trusts have been snatching up single-family homes all around the country for years, creating concern that homeowners themselves would be pushed even further out of the market. But a sweeping new bill introduced by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Rep. Adam Smith would, if enacted as written, essentially ban such corporate investors from the practice moving forward.
The bill, which was introduced in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, would over a ten-year period require hedge funds and large institutional investors to completely divest from single-family home ownership. Called the End Hedge Fund Control of American Homes Act, the bill would require large funds to sell off 10 percent of their homes each year over a decade.
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“We shouldn’t allow private equity firms to buy up vast quantities of American homes and create a generation of lifelong renters. Congress needs to act fast and help promote access to safe, affordable housing and homeownership for American families, not Wall Street,” Smith said in a press release.
The bill would require the Internal Revenue Service to tax large funds that fail to sell off their single family homes over that timeframe. It already has some support in the house, where it is co-sponsored by the U.S. Representatives Nikema Williams and Linda Sánchez, as well as in the Senate, where it is cosponsored by Senator Tina Smith. Advocacy groups Private Equity Stakeholder Project, Consumer Action, and National Consumer Law Center have offered additional support.
The bill defines a hedge fund as partnerships, corporations, or real estate investment trusts that pool funds from investors and have $50 million or more in net value or assets under management, with exemptions for nonprofits and companies primarily focused on construction. Hedge funds failing to report single-family home purchases would face a $20,000 fine that would go toward a housing down payment trust fund. Funds that fail to sell off their housing stock in the timeframe required would face a tax of 50 percent of the fair market value for each property, with funds also going to the housing trust fund.
Merkley and Smith cite data from an Urban Institute report that said in 2011, no single entity owned more than 1,000 single-family rental homes, whereas by June 2022 hedge funds and institutional investors owned a cumulative 574,000 single-family homes. This includes large corporate owners like Invitation Homes, which owns more than 80,000 homes across the country. While corporate investors only own 5 percent of the nation’s single-family housing stock, the ownership is often concentrated in majority Black and Latino neighborhoods and in some neighborhoods, entire blocks have been purchased by investors.
The practice has ramped up since the beginning of the pandemic, with 28 percent of all homes sold in 2022 going to institutional investors according to Pew Charitable Trust. In 2021, a venture-funded company backed by Jeff Bezos and other billionaires also got in on the act.
Institutional investors have also been buying up multifamily apartments, and tenants across the country have been fighting back by forming unions to demand maintenance and push for stronger regulations.
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