LaTanya Moore-Newsome, a real estate agent with Century 21 in Atlanta, has been calling Wall Street-backed landlords for months on behalf of her low-income clients with government housing vouchers.
She said some of the area’s biggest homebuyers in the past two years, including Blackstone Group LP, American Homes 4 Rent and Silver Bay Realty Trust Corp., repeatedly told her they had nothing available for tenants who use subsidies under the federal Section 8 assistance plan. Last week, she finally got a positive response from Blackstone’s Invitation Homes unit, which said it would accept applications from her renters.
“It’s a really uphill battle dealing with these investors,” Moore-Newsome said. “You already have to deal with some of the issues with owners not wanting to take Section 8 in nicer areas. Now you have these big companies come into their neighborhoods and they say we’re not renting to you either.”
Private-equity firms, hedge funds and real estate investment trusts have bought more than 100,000 U.S. homes, becoming dominant single-family landlords in markets hardest-hit by the housing crash such as Atlanta. As the companies seek thousands of tenants to fill newly renovated properties, their decision whether to lease to low-income Americans with Section 8 vouchers stands to affect both their profitability and poor residents who have been longtime renters.
Blackstone -- the largest company in the fledgling industry after spending more than $5 billion to buy 32,000 U.S. homes -- inherited at least 200 Section 8 tenants when it bought a portfolio of Atlanta-area houses in April for about $100 million. That brought the amount of homes occupied by voucher holders to less than 1 percent of its portfolio, the company said at the time.
Invitation Homes, which operates the business, leases to 81 of the almost 17,000 families with vouchers in Atlanta and neighboring DeKalb and Cobb counties, according to data from the three largest Atlanta-area housing authorities.
“Invitation Homes has a significant number of Section 8 tenants and continues to rent to new Section 8 tenants,” Christine Anderson, a spokeswoman for New York-based Blackstone, said in a statement.
Some institutional landlords, including Waypoint Homes Realty Trust Inc. and Sylvan Road Capital LLC, consider voucher holders a reliable client base because they have a low turnover rate and the government pays most of their rent on a timely basis. Other investors that are building home-rental companies may not want to take on the red tape, stigma of renting to poorer tenants and the potential extra costs, said Christopher Thornberg, principal at research firm Beacon Economics LLC in Los Angeles. They also don’t want to leave their homes vacant for long, he said.