Research: Eric Seymour co-authors new paper: How Private Equity Landlords Prey on Working-Class Communities of Color

May 10, 2023

Abstract

Assistant Professor Eric Seymour co-authored, with Taylor Shelton, a new paper titled, “How Private Equity Landlords Prey on Working-Class Communities of Color,” in New Labor Forum. The paper focuses on the Atlanta region and describes the factors contributing to the increase of private equity and real estate investment trusts in single-family home ownership, and how this affects low-income working-class communities of color.

The ownership of rental housing by private equity (PE) companies has been on the rise in the United States and abroad in recent decades. PE firms invest funds contributed by institutional and otherwise large investors, including pension and sovereign wealth funds. The typical PE playbook is to take a controlling interest in a business, restructure it to increase the appearance of improved financial performance and resell for a substantial profit. PE operates in a variety of sectors, including healthcare, media, and retail, often to the long-term detriment of these businesses and their services. PE firms frequently take aggressive asset-stripping and cost-cutting measures, leading to lower-quality services, while also raising costs for customers.

Since the expansion of PE buyouts in the 1990s, there has been widespread documentation of the damages wrought by PE takeovers, from the elimination of local news coverage to declining care in nursing homes.1 Since the foreclosure crisis and the recession of the 2000s, these firms have begun taking a controlling interest in the ownership of rental housing, leading to widespread attention on the larger phenomena of corporate landlords.

While corporate ownership is sometimes conflated with PE ownership, not all corporate landlords are PE firms. Some, including the largest and most widely known, are publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITs). Though PE funds and REITs differ in their specifics, both are conduits for investing in real estate, yoking the housing needs of millions of renters across the planet to investors’ expectations for competitive financial returns. Because of PE and REITs’ aggressive expansion in rental markets, tenants have faced escalating rents and reduced services, exacerbating rent burden and displacement, and crowding out of opportunities for affordable homeownership.

In this paper, the authors describe the factors contributing to the rise of PE and REIT ownership in housing, the impact of this trend on poor and working-class communities, and the current organizing that seeks to address it. They give particular attention to single-family rentals (SFR), a new frontier for PE and corporate investment, and the subject of ongoing research. They present an analysis of the spatial concentration of rental homes by PE and REIT firms in the Atlanta metropolitan area, which has become one of the principal sites of PE investment into SFRs across the country.

1 Michael Ewens, Arpit Gupta, and Sabrina T. Howell, “Local Journalism under Private Equity Ownership,” NBER, 2022; Atul Gupta, Sabrina T. Howell, Constantine Yannelis, and Abhinav Gupta. “Does Private Equity Investment in Healthcare Benefit Patients? Evidence from Nursing Homes,” NBER, 2021.


Citation

Seymour, E., & Shelton, T. (2023). How Private Equity Landlords Prey on Working-Class Communities of Color. New Labor Forum0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/10957960231170168

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