Merkley hopes to get hedge funds out of housing

The Observer

COVE — Hedge funds should not be in the housing business.

This is the firm belief of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, one he expressed at a town hall meeting at Cove High School on Saturday, May 18.

“A slice of middle class America is being taken over by wealthier millionaires and billionaires,” he said.

Merkley said while some of the nation’s housing challenges, including a supply shortage, will take years to address, hedge funds can be tackled immediately by prohibiting hedge funds from owning and controlling large parts of the American housing market.

Merkley said the problem is particularly bad in cities like Phoenix and Atlanta where large hedge investors have purchased more than 35% of the homes for sale. Merkley noted that in many cases the homes purchased by hedge fund investors are not being used to provide housing but instead being rented out as short-term rentals. This allows the owner to make more money than they would renting the property out as a home, Merkley said.

The senator said hedge fund investors became involved in the housing market during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, when many homeowners were defaulting on their mortgage payments. At the time, hedge fund investors could sometimes buy 1,000 homes at a time at about 50 cents on the dollar.

“It was a tremendous opportunity for hedge fund investors,” Merkley said, adding he attempted to get President Barack Obama to make it possible for Americans at lower income levels to also take advantage of the opportunity to buy foreclosed homes at the low prices hedge fund investors were paying. Merkley said Obama did not want to do this, explaining the process to implement it would be too complicated.

Merkley said a decision that excluded ordinary Americans from buying these homes and returning them to families seeking to recover housing stability was disappointing.

Merkley said on his website that to meet investor’s return expectations, hedge funds and other investors prioritize maximizing profits by imposing high rent increases, inflated fees and diminishing quality of housing over time.

To address the problem, Merkley has introduced the End Hedge Fund Control of American Homes Act. Key steps it would take include banning hedge funds and all other investors from owning large numbers of homes by establishing a $20,000 federal tax penalty per single family home owned in excess of 100.

Merkley introduced the End Hedge Fund Control of American Homes Act in the Senate in late 2023.

Merkley talked to an audience of about 50 in Cove and answered questions about many other issues, including the Blue Mountains Forest Plan, homeowner insurance rates and the rising cost of attending college.

It was the 561st town hall he has given in Oregon since he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008.