Real estate crowdfunding exec is top HUD adviser

From left: Maren Kasper, Donald Trump and Ben Carson (Credit: Getty Images)
From left: Maren Kasper, Donald Trump and Ben Carson (Credit: Getty Images)

From the New York website: When Fannie Mae agreed to back $1 billion in single-family rental debt from Blackstone Group’s Invitation Homes, the National Association of Realtors didn’t take it very well.

“These investors do not expand the affordable housing stock,” NAR President William Brown wrote to Federal Housing Finance Agency director Mel Watt in January. “Rather, in this limited market they drive up the price of rents and remove affordable inventory from the hands of American homeowners.”

Now, the group that advocates for homeownership may have another reason to keep writing letters.

Earlier this week, ProPublica published a list of more than 400 Trump administration officials working across the federal government’s major departments. The list includes a number of officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, such as its “Senior White House Advisor,” Maren Kasper. Kasper most recently served as a director at Roofstock, an Oakland-based investment platform for single-family rental homes. Its CEO Gary Beasley has described the firm as an E-Trade for real estate.

Roofstock launched a year ago and offers investors opportunities to buy single-family homes in seven states. Its list of prominent investors includes Bain Capital Ventures, StubHub co-founder Jeff Fluhr and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. To provide its buyers with financing, Roofstock partners with lenders like Colony American Finance, a company founded by Trump confidante, campaign adviser and inauguration committee head Tom Barrack, whose single-family home giant Colony American Homes merged with Starwood’s Waypoint Residential Trust last year, creating a REIT with more than 30,000 homes under ownership.

Before moving to Roofstock, Kasper worked at the home-flipping and single-family rental lender Dwell Finance, which is owned by B2R (which is currently owned by a Blackstone fund). According to a page on the NYU Stern School of Business’ website, she founded the elderly-focused, single-family rental service HoneyCo Homes.

Request for comment directed at a spokesperson for the White House was redirected to the White House press office, which did not respond. Gary Beasley, the CEO of Roofstock, also did not respond to a request for comment, nor did a representative for Barrack. A spokesperson for HUD confirmed that Kasper is working as a senior adviser, but declined further comment.

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According to Politico, department-focused advisers are expected to maintain constant contact between the White House and their respective departments of focus, and duties will include signing off on major decisions.

Having one of their own at the White House could be a shot in the arm for the single-family rental industry. Greg Rand, the CEO of OwnAmerica, a brokerage for single-family rental investors, told The Real Deal he was excited to learn of the appointment. Rand is hopeful that the Federal Housing Administration under HUD Secretary Ben Carson will move to make low-rate, multifamily FHA loans available to single-family rental investors.

“That would be a gangbusters benefit to the creation of more rental stock,” Rand said, adding that appointing someone like Kasper was “an indicator” that things are looking up for the industry. He described the opposition single-family rental investment has faced from homeowner groups as “shortsighted.”

After the financial crisis, small and large investors alike saw an opportunity in a single-family housing market crippled by foreclosure. Companies like Blackstone’s Invitation Homes began buying-up single-family homes nationwide and in 2013, purchased 1,400 Atlanta homes in a single day. Invitation Homes announced an initial public offering in December. A number of big players in the industry have clout with the current administration. Jonathan Gray, Blackstone’s global head of real estate, was being considered for the position of treasury secretary and met Trump shortly after the election. Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s ultimate pick, has been accused of skirting federal rules while foreclosing on thousands of homeowners during his tenure as chairman of OneWest Bank.

Following Fannie Mae’s single-family rental deal with Blackstone, Freddie Mac is also considering backing such loans, sources told Bloomberg this week.

Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, has proposed more favorable financing options for single-family rental investment as a way to bolster affordable housing nationwide. In a 2015 report, its researchers advised allowing single-family investors access to HUD multifamily loan programs as well as the low income housing tax credit (LIHTC). The report also suggested a name change for the single-family rental industry: “multisite multifamily”