Billionaire Charles Koch’s foundation has bankrolled three conservative legal groups leading the court battle to eliminate prohibitions against tenant evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic in America.
At the same time, Koch’s corporate empire has suddenly stepped up its real estate purchases during the pandemic – including making large investments in real estate companies with a potential financial interest in eliminating eviction restrictions.
In the last few months, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Pacific Legal Foundation and the New Civil Rights Alliance have been pushing federal courts to strike down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium, which is designed to protect millions of Americans from being thrown out of their homes during the pandemic. The groups have so far won two rulings.
Between 2017 and 2019, the Charles Koch Foundation contributed almost $7.7m to those three conservative organizations, according to the foundation’s tax returns reviewed by the Daily Poster.
Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.
Koch has been among the biggest financiers of conservative advocacy groups and political causes, and he is one of the wealthiest people on the planet thanks to his stake in Koch Industries, which is the nation’s second-largest privately held company and best known for its investments in fossil fuels.
But since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Koch Industries has been plowing money into real estate.
In March this year, the Wall Street Journal published a report headlined Charles Koch Is Betting Big on Distressed Real Estate. The paper reported that the billionaire’s corporate conglomerate “is emerging as a major real-estate investor during the pandemic, using its robust cash reserves to buy properties at beaten-down prices and betting on a longer-term recovery”.
Last April, a month into the pandemic, Koch Real Estate Investments made a “$200m preferred-equity investment in Amherst Holdings LLC’s single-family rental business”, according to the corporate law firm Jones Day, which said it advised the Koch Industries subsidiary on the deal. Amherst says that since 2012, “its affiliated funds have acquired and operated more than 30,000 homes”.
Starting last May, Koch Real Estate Investments began a financial relationship with Ladder Capital Corp., culminating in a $32m equity investment in December. Ladder finances residential real estate, and the Wall Street Journal recently reported that its subsidiaries’ loans to Donald Trump have been scrutinized by prosecutors.
Koch Real Estate Investments was also among a group of investors that last month bought an ownership stake in SmartRent, a landlord technology company.
Koch’s real estate spending spree has coincided with Koch-funded conservative groups mounting lawsuits against the federal eviction ban.
Since 2017, the Charles Koch Foundation has disclosed donating roughly $4.6m to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, $2m to the New Civil Rights Alliance and $1.1m to the Pacific Legal Foundation. These groups have been suing to overturn the CDC eviction moratorium since last fall, arguing the CDC has no authority to prevent landlords from evicting delinquent tenants, despite the pandemic.
The Koch network’s umbrella group, called Stand Together Trust (previously known as the Seminar Network), separately donated $500,000 to the Texas Public Policy Foundation in 2019.
In February, the Texas Public Policy Foundation convinced a federal judge in Texas to declare the CDC’s eviction moratorium unconstitutional. In March, a federal judge in Ohio sided with the Pacific Legal Foundation, ruling that the CDC “exceeded the scope of its authority” with its eviction ban.
Both Ladder and Amherst – and by extension Koch Industries – could benefit if the Koch-funded groups are successful in getting the eviction ban overturned.
Amherst owns Main Street Renewal, which operates 20,000 homes, according to Fortune magazine. Main Street Renewal’s website lists home rental locations in 17 states, including Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida.
In March last year, Amherst Capital researchers warned investors that the pandemic could disproportionately crush renters.
“While no economic class will be untouched by Covid-19’s silent wrath, lower middle income households – mostly hourly workers – are likely to bear the brunt,” they wrote. “A disproportionate share of these affected hourly wage workers are renters who will need payment support in these trying times.”
The following month, the Amherst CEO, Sean Dobson, told Bloomberg News that the company would offer renters forbearance “as long as we can. But we don’t have the Federal Reserve to lend to us.”
The Private Equity Stakeholder Project recently identified 150 eviction cases filed by Main Street Renewal in March and April this year.
Amherst has reported lobbying Congress on “issues related to the single family residential housing market”, according to the most recent federal disclosures from the first quarter of 2021.
In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ladder recently warned investors that “lenders and landlords face challenges in enforcing contracts and instituting proceedings such as foreclosures and evictions as a result of moratoriums” – and that therefore “new properties that we may acquire or redevelop may not produce significant revenue immediately”.
In October, days after the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation filed their CDC lawsuits, Ladder’s CEO, Brian Harris, used an earnings call to declare that “these eviction moratoriums that are out there are accidents waiting to happen”.
“The government at large takes people who are voting and says, you don’t have to pay your rent this month, but they’re not going to be there when they owe six months’ worth of rent,” Harris said. “And they haven’t told the landlord that he doesn’t have to make his payment to his lender like me.”
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