Giant California Public Employees Pension Plan Feeling Backlash For Its Role In Predatory Equity Real Estate Investments
- Calpers(1) took a hit last year when its investment in Manhattan's Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town apartment complex collapsed. But Stuyvesant Town wasn't the huge pension fund's only foray into real-estate investments that involved ousting low-rent tenants. The California Public Employees' Retirement System has partnered with firms that have bought and converted rent-regulated buildings in East Palo Alto, Calif., and in other New York City neighborhoods, including Harlem and Manhattan's Upper East Side.
- Some deals have led to losses; at least one has paid off. But whatever the investment result, the conversion of low-rent properties to market-rent apartments—and ejection of some tenants in the process—is raising concerns within and beyond Calpers about its role in these
- Calpers, which manages about $200 billion in retirees' money and other benefits for public employees, prides itself on taking a leadership role in promoting socially responsible investing. Some detractors say deals that involve ousting tenants conflicts with that mission.
For more, see Backlash Hits Calpers Property Deals.
(1) The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) is an agency in the California executive branch that manages pension and health benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees, and their families.
(2) According to the story, in these types of real-estate deals, which detractors call "predatory equity," investors borrow funds to buy the buildings and then try to make money by getting the buildings to operate more profitably, primarily by raising rents. Rent-regulated units generally can be raised to the market rate after a tenant moves out, as long as the landlord makes sufficient improvements to the apartment. But waiting for apartments to become vacant may not be profitable for investors who do these types of deals, given interest due on the money borrowed to buy the building. Tenants in rent regulated apartments typically are automatically entitled to renewal leases upon the expiration of their current leases, which means that, as long as they are making their rent payments, they can remain in possession of their units indefinitely. So owners often try to move out a number of tenants quickly, for example by trying to identify tenants occupying the apartments illegally.
Tenants often maintain they resided legally and were harassed or intimidated by new owners in hopes of getting them to leave voluntarily. Other times, owners have looked for possible ambiguities in rent-control laws that might justify a rent increase, tenants say. Sometimes, lower-income and non-English-speaking tenants are reluctant to challenge these abrupt increases in court, say affordable-housing advocates.