Housing

Federal agency holds closed-door meeting about single-family rentals

Fannie Mae's Washington, D.C., headquarters in 2011. Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo, File

Fannie Mae was created by Congress during the depths of the Great Depression to help Americans buy homes. Soon, however, the government-controlled mortgage company could be extending billions of dollars in credit to corporate landlords, buying large numbers of single-family homes, taking them off the market for working-class and first-time homebuyers.

On Wednesday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and its sister agency Freddie Mac, held a closed-door meeting with industry executives to discuss “emerging opportunities” in the single-family rental market.

The event was closed to journalists, and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting was barred from attending the invitation-only gathering.

“We wanted to keep it to a very small intimate group just so the discussion can be free flowing and not have to worry about things being said being made public,” said agency spokeswoman Danielle Walton.

An invite list obtained by Reveal includes a who’s who of corporate landlords, along with a smattering of consumer groups, homebuilders and real estate agents.

Among those scheduled to speak at the gathering alongside senior Federal Housing Finance Agency officials was Jonathan Olsen, a senior vice president of Invitation Homes, the nation’s largest landlord on single-family homes with 50,000 houses across 10 states. In January, the company, created by the private equity firm Blackstone, became the recipient of the first single-family rental security created by Fannie Mae. The $1 billion loan, which covered more than 7,000 homes, was described as pilot.

An email to Olsen was not returned.

Also on the attendees list: Charles Young, chief operating officer for Colony Starwood Homes, a 31,000-home rental empire founded by Tom Barrack, one of President Donald Trump’s oldest friends. Barrack quit the company earlier this month, a day after a Reveal exposé detailed slum-like conditions and rising rents in the company’s properties. In an email, company spokesman Jason Chudoba said the firm would “respectfully decline the opportunity to comment.”

Billionaire real estate mogul Thomas J. Barrack, one of President Donald Trump’s closest confidants, introduces Ivanka Trump on the final day of the Republican National Convention last year. Barrack built an empire out of the single-family rental home market and quit the company earlier this month, one day after a Reveal expose about conditions in the homes. Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

Diane Tomb, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, was also scheduled to speak. She also declined to be interviewed.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency is looking to expand taxpayer support to single-family rentals, despite a report from Fannie Mae’s own researchers that found the growth of corporate landlords had contributed to a plummeting homeownership rate, which last year hit its lowest level since 1965.

The “explosive growth of the single-family rental market has been a defining characteristic of the housing bust and recovery,” Patrick Simmons, director of strategic planning for Fannie Mae, wrote in a report last October.

But Simmons said it’s come at a cost: a “starter-home shortage that now appears to be slowing the return of first-time buyers to the housing market.”

Aaron Glantz can be reached at aglantz@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Aaron_Glantz.

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