For the last decade, the Atlanta metro has been ground zero for corporate investors buying up single-family homes to turn into rental properties. Studies have consistently shown that more so than any other single metropolitan area across the country, these firms have focused on Atlanta and its suburban fringes, leading Dan Immergluck to label Atlanta a ‘private equity strike zone’.
The emergence of corporate-owned single-family rentals was fueled initially by the glut of homes held by banks and the federal government in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. Eager to rid themselves of these properties and their potential liabilities, these various institutions sold off hundreds and even thousands of properties directly to corporate investors who were more than willing to take them off their hands for bargain bin prices.
But one of the features of this incredible flow of corporate cash into Atlanta is that it never really stops. Even though a number of studies have looked at the concentration of corporate landlords across Atlanta, these studies are outdated almost as soon as they’re published because these investors are constantly snapping up more and more properties. At the same time, new firms have popped up seeking to emulate these business models, further expanding the reach of these corporations into the housing market. This has led to the point where corporate investors made up more than 40% of metro Atlanta home purchases in the latter months of 2021. And as Elora Raymond has shown in her recent research here in Atlanta, more corporate ownership of housing almost invariably means more evictions and more displacement of Black residents.
Using the most up-to-date property ownership data available, I have – along with my friend and collaborator Eric Seymour – been working on mapping the largest of these corporate single-family landlords across the five core counties of metro Atlanta. Based on our analysis, just the ten largest single-family rental companies1 operating in the Atlanta metro own a total 29,785 homes across these counties, the concentrations of which are shown in the map below. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a good portion of this spatial pattern mirrors the racial geographies of the Atlanta metro, with more corporate landlords coming in and buying up homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods.
While it’s commonly stated that these institutional investors tend to avoid buying inside the perimeter or the City of Atlanta for a variety of reasons – one article even called it “a clear donut hole” – our analysis shows the situation to be a bit more complicated. These companies undoubtedly are much more concentrated on buying in the suburbs further out from the city center where properties tend to be cheaper, but they’ve also invested considerably within the city limits. Just within the City of Atlanta, these ten companies own 1,146 single family homes. Again, that’s only a small percentage – about 3.8% – of the total number of properties they own in the five core counties, but it’s nothing to shake a stick at either. More than avoiding the City of Atlanta altogether, it’s fairer to say that most of these corporate landlords tend to avoid buying in affluent and white neighborhoods whether they’re within or beyond the city limits. This is, however, variable depending on which company we’re talking about, as different firms tend to concentrate their property holdings within different neighborhoods in order to avoid directly competing with one another (a subject for a future post!).
What’s most remarkable about these top line numbers is not just that these companies represent by far the largest owners of residential property across Atlanta, it’s that they’ve achieved this status in incredible short order. Just a dozen or so years ago these companies didn’t even exist, much less own a considerable share of Atlanta’s – or the nation’s! – single-family rental stock. And yet, local groups like Housing Justice League have been calling attention to these new corporate landlords since at least 2014, with little to no attempt at intervention from policymakers. And now, with the problem of corporate control of housing considerably worse than it was back in 2014, the best we seem to be able to muster up are suburban municipalities’ foolhardy attempts at regulating these landlords via bans on rental housing, which have the unintended (?) effect of demonizing renters rather than the landlords that exploit them. Even still, the state steps in to quash these half-measures at slowing the pace of more and more corporate incursion into our everyday lives and the ownership of the land and housing in which we live and on which we depend.
1 Ordered by the size of their holdings in metro Atlanta, the firms included in this analysis are: Invitation Homes, Pretium Partners, Amherst Holdings, Cerberus Capital, American Homes 4 Rent, Tricon American Homes, Home Partners for America, Avenue One Residential, Sylvan Homes and Vinebrook Homes.