Roundtable Weekly -- June 19, 2020

Capital and Credit

Fed Chairman Testifies Congressional Stimulus Measures Should Continue as Main Street Lending Program Launches; Regulators Support Financing to Non-Bank Lenders

Fed Chairman Powell remote testimony

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told House and Senate policymakers this week that economic support for workers and businesses adversely affected by COVID-19 should continue, adding that until COVID-19 is fully contained, “a full recovery is unlikely.” 

  • “It would be wise to look at ways to continue to support people who are out of work and also smaller businesses that may not have vast resources for a period of time…so that we can get through this critical phase,” Powell said. “That support would be well placed at this time.” (Wall Street Journal, June 17 and 18)
  • The Fed Chairman acknowledged some economic indicators have suggested "a modest rebound." He also cautioned, "That said, the levels of output and employment remain far below their pre-pandemic levels, and significant uncertainty remains about the timing and strength of the recovery."  (BGov, June 17 and Marketwatch, June 18)
  • During his two days of congressional testimony, Powell defended the Fed’s aggressive purchases of assets and corporate bonds.  “I don’t see us as wanting to run through the bond market like an elephant, doing things and snuffing out price signals,” he said. “We just want to be there if things turn bad in the economy.”  (Bloomberg, June 16)
  • Powell delivered his remarks to Congress after stating last week that the central bank will continue buying large quantities of bonds and leave interest rates near zero through at least 2022.”  (USA Today, June 10)
  • The Fed Chairman also warned that the economic downturn could widen inequalities between rich and poor.  “Low-income households have experienced, by far, the sharpest drop in employment, while job losses of African-Americans, Hispanics and women have been greater than that of other groups,” Mr. Powell said. “If not contained and reversed, the downturn could further widen gaps in economic well-being that the long expansion had made some progress in closing.”  (New York Times, June 16)

Former Federal Reserve Chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen signed a June 16 letter to congressional leaders, endorsed by more than 150 economic scholars, stating, “Congress must pass another economic recovery package before most of the support in the CARES Act expires this summer.  Congress should address this risk, and the already occurring economic damage, by passing, as soon as possible, a multifaceted relief bill of a magnitude commensurate with the challenges our economy faces.” (Washington Center for Equitable Growth, June 16 statement)

Main Street Lending Program Launches

The Real Estate Roundtable and Nareit on April 22 wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell urging that additional measures be adopted to expand the scope of the Main Street Lending Programs (MSLP) to forestall further disruption and economic dislocations in the commercial real estate sector during the pandemic.  (MSLP letter, April 22)

  • On June 8, The Federal Reserve Board expanded its MSLP to allow more small and medium-sized businesses to be able to receive support. (Roundtable Weekly, June 12)
  • This week, the Federal Reserve’s MSLP opened for lender registration.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston announced on June 15 that lenders can find the necessary registration documents and are encouraged to begin making Main Street program loans immediately.  (News Release)
  • The program offers five-year loans with floating rates, with principal payments deferred for two years and interest payments deferred for one year. The loans range in size from $250,000 to $300 million to support a broad set of businesses.

The MSLP intends to purchase 95% of each eligible loan that is submitted to the program after meeting all requirements. The Program will also accept loans that were originated under the previously announced terms, if funded before June 10, 2020. 

Regulators Support Financing to Non-Bank Lenders

Federal banking regulators responded favorably this month to a request from a business coalition, including The Real Estate Roundtable, that requested clarifications about financial institutions working with borrowers impacted by COVID-19. (Regulators April 7 guidanceInteragency Statement on Loan Modifications and Reporting for Financial Institutions Working with Customers Affected by the Coronavirus.)

  • The coalition’s focus was the debt financing extended by commercial banking institutions to non-bank lenders (NBLs) who, in turn, provide mortgage loan funding to commercial and multifamily property owners of all types.  The coalition received two affirmative replies, from Acting Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) Brian P. Brooks on June 4 – and on June 18 from Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman Jelena McWilliams.

The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) continues to work to address the current crisis, pursuing measures that will enhance liquidity and capital formation, and to help develop an effective insurance program that provides the economy with the coverage it needs to address future pandemics. 

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Tax Policy

IRS Proposes Favorable New Rules for Like-Kind Exchanges

IRS Building

The IRS on June 11 released proposed regulations for like-kind exchanges under section 1031 that implement changes enacted in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017.  TCJA restricted section 1031 to exchanges of “real property.”  The proposed rules would provide a favorable definition of “real property” and establish a safe harbor for certain personal property received in an exchange. 

  • Like-kind exchange rules allow taxpayers to defer capital gains tax when they exchange property held for investment or business use for another property of a “like kind.”  
  • Ryan McCormick, senior vice president and counsel at The Real Estate Roundtable, described in Bloomberg  Tax (June 11) why real estate like-kind exchanges are critical in the current environment: “Like-kind exchanges are even more important during periods of economic stress, like today, when traditional financing is less reliable.”
  • TPAC Member Richard Lipton (Baker McKenzie LLP) noted favorable aspects of the proposed rules, “It’s a very broad definition and many practitioners will be happy with the inclusion of inherently permanent structures being broadly defined, and also the inclusion of certain intangible property,” Lipton said.  (Bloomberg Tax, June 11).
  • Under TCJA, items like machinery, equipment, vehicles, artwork, collectibles, and patents no longer qualify for deferral under section 1031, but exchange treatment remains available for real property, including “land and generally anything built on or attached to it.” (IRS New Release 2018-227, Nov. 19, 2018).

The proposed rules appropriately treat licenses, permits, and other rights that derive their value from real property as eligible assets.  The regulations also provide a helpful safe harbor for incidental personal property (up to 15% of the aggregate value of the replacement property) that is typically transferred, in standard commercial transactions, with the real property.  (Federal Register, June 12, Statutory Limitations on Like-Kind Exchanges)

Like-Kind Exchange Deadlines

Like-kind exchanges must meet strict deadlines to qualify for deferral.  The pandemic has greatly complicated the ability to complete an exchange.  The reasons include: stay-at-home orders, flight restrictions, an inability to visit sites or perform appraisals, the closure of local governmental offices, and a general inability to conduct the necessary due diligence. 

  • In March, The Roundtable and other real estate organizations requested an extension of 1031 deadlines.  (Coalition LKE letter, March 23)
  • The Treasury Department in early April extended the 45-day deadline for identifying like-kind exchange replacement property and the 180-day deadline to close on a like-kind exchange transaction until July 15, 2020.  (IRS Notice 2020-23)
  • “It seemed like a good-government, reasonable thing to do,” The Roundtable’s Ryan McCormick recently told The New York Times.  Real estate investors could not travel because of pandemic lockdowns and completing due diligence steps such as an appraisal became difficult, if not impossible. “Taxpayers were seeking some additional time to work through that,” McCormick told the Times.  (The New York Times, June 5)
  • An industry coalition, including The Real Estate Roundtable, on April 20 wrote to the Treasury Secretary seeking further clarification and relief on 1031 deadlines.  (Coalition letter, April 20, 2020)

The Roundtable’s TPAC will review the June 11 proposed regulations and comment on any further like-kind exchange issues that may need clarification. 

TPAC Video Discussions

TPAC held its first remote meeting in conjunction with The Roundtable’s Annual Meeting on June 12.  Wide-ranging TPAC discussions touch on recent social unrest; the COVID-19 pandemic and the CARES Act; partnership audit reform;  section 199A;  like-kind exchanges, COD income; energy-efficiency incentives; REIT related party rules; section 163(j); and much more. TPAC recordings on The Roundtable's YouTube channel include:

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    Labor and Public Policy

    Roundtable Discussion with North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey on COVID-19, Racial Inequality, Workforce Training and Infrastructure

    Sean McGarvey, President, NABTU

    Sean McGarvey, above, President of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Roundtable President Jeffrey DeBoer this week discussed compelling issues of importance to CRE and the Trades, including COVID-19 responses, infrastructure investment, racial inequality,  workforce development, infrastructure and capital investment.  (Watch the remote discussion on The Roundtable’s Youtube channel.)

    • NABTU is an alliance of 14 national and international unions in the building and construction industry that collectively represent over 3 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada.
    • DeBoer and McGarvey’s discussed possible ways the two sectors could work constructively together on issues, including:
    • COVID-19.  McGarvey commented on how at the onset of the pandemic outbreak, a large amount of NABTU’s workforce was laid idle.  The unions urgently worked with DHS and state leaders on how the construction industry could remain in business by pursuing guidance with federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Centers (CDC).  NABTU’s extensive efforts in funding COVID-19 vaccine research and trials are also recounted. 
    • Nondiscriminatory work environments.  The discussion touched on NABTU’s June 1 statement issued in response to the nationwide protests over racial inequality.  In the remote discussion with DeBoer, McGarvey said, “At this point where people want to compare it to 1968 … its so much different now that I really thing we’re going to get somewhere this time. And the Building Trades when it comes to diversifying our membership … we even have a couple dozen formerly incarcerated programs where we are teaching curriculum inside the state prison system (until Covid came) to prepare people for when they get out to come into our training programs and go to work.”
    • Apprenticeships and training.  “There’s only one institution in the world that trains more people in hard skills than NABTU. That’s the United States military,” McGarvey noted.  The unions and their signatory contractor partners invest over $1.6 billion in private-sector money to fund and operate over 1,900 apprenticeship training and education facilities across North America that produce highly trained, craft workers.  Several Roundtable member companies participate in NABTU workforce programs.
    • Infrastructure. The effectiveness of public-private partnerships in large infrastructure investments was addressed by DeBoer and McGuire.  The two also discussed the difficulty of financing construction projects during the pandemic and how it affects the economic security of the entire industry.  The Roundtable is currently working with policymakers and stakeholders to develop and enact an effective pandemic risk/business continuity program that would add more confidence to the marketplace while a health solution is vigorously pursued on the medical front.
    • Capital investment strategies.  NABTU has interests in nearly $700 billion of capital investments and assets that include funds focused on pensions, commercial real estate development, infrastructure and other investment.   “We are about partnerships,” McGarvey noted. “We are partnered with public pension funds who see it like us … who want a minimum amount of standards of who they are going to lend to and who they are going to invest with.  So you take our nearly $700 billion … we are thinking that in about 3 years we’ll be up to about $3 trillion worth of pension fund money that’s going to have minimum requirements.”    

    The remote discussion concluded on a positive note about exploring possible ways The Roundtable and NABTU could work together on mutually beneficial issues.

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    Infrastructure

    House Democrats, Republicans Propose Infrastructure Plans as Highway Trust Fund Faces Sept. 30 Expiration

    HIghway Infrastructure Houston

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and several Democratic chairs are using a surface transportation bill as a base for a broader $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan they announced yesterday, to also invest in the nation’s housing, water, broadband, clean energy, and education systems.  (POLITICO, June 18 – see also Pelosi remarks and Youtube video, June 18).

    • Action on transportation infrastructure is considered a “must-do” item in Congress before the November elections because the nation’s main source to fund roads, bridges, and mass transit – the Highway Trust Fund – expires on September 30.  (New York Times, June 17)
    • The Democratic surface transportation piece – the INVEST in America Act – would authorize $494 billion in spending over five years. Key elements of this bill align with Roundtable policies, such as state/local cost share allocations that would help finance significant projects like the Northeast Corridor Gateway Program. (Roundtable Weekly, June 5 and Bill text | Factsheet | Bill Summary | Section-by-Section)
    • Pelosi said yesterday that the comprehensive Democratic infrastructure package – the Moving Forward Act – would “make real the promise of building infrastructure in a green and resilient way,” and that “[i]t’s job-creating in its essence, but also commerce-promoting.”  (The Hill, June 18). A framework for the omnibus measure was released in January.  (Roundtable Weekly,  January 31)
    • The critical issue with any infrastructure proposal is how to pay for it. House Ways and Means (W&M) Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) yesterday outlined several tax provisions to be included in the Democratic leadership's measure.
    • Neal stated, "We leaned on our tax code and will reinstate Build America Bonds, to not only provide financing to state and local governments but also spur investment in the private sector,” according to a W&M Committee press release. “There is a desperate need for modernizing low-income housing, and the Committee proposed a massive expansion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to get us there." A W&M fact sheet outlines other provisions.  
    • The Senate is expected to focus on infrastructure in the coming weeks after the House acts. Last summer, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) unanimously approved a five-year, $287 billion surface transportation plan. (Roundtable Weekly, August 2, 2019).

    The Trump Administration has long stated that infrastructure is one of its top priorities. It is reportedly preparing another $1 trillion plan that it may present to Congress next month.  (Bloomberg, June 16) Pelosi said yesterday she anticipates the Democratic Moving Forward Act will come to a House vote before Congress breaks for the July 4th recess and urged the Administration to begin negotiations about funding it.

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    Immigration & The Workforce

    SCOTUS Decision Protects “Dreamers” from Deportation For Now, and Sets the Stage for Election Year Controversy

    U.S. Supreme Court with Flag

    The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a highly-anticipated decision yesterday, ruling that Obama-era forbearance against deporting unauthorized immigrants brought by their parents to this country as children – the “Dreamers” – stands in place for the time being.  (SCOTUSblog analysis, June 18)

    • Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 decision in Dep’t of Homeland Security vs. Regents of the Univ. of California. The Court’s majority decided that the Trump Administration’s 2017 efforts to thwart the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, established in 2012, was a wrongful “arbitrary and capricious” action.
    • Approximately 700,000 immigrants have sought DACA protections. The program allows unauthorized foreign-born individuals who “only know this country as home” to apply for two-year forbearance on deportation, as well as work permits and eligibility for Social Security and Medicare.  A 2014 program extended similar protections to the Dreamers’ parents.”
    • The Trump Administration rescinded both programs in 2017. The high Court majority decided the rescission was illegal because, among other reasons, DHS purported to strike the entire policy – and did not consider whether the “deferred removal” elements of DACA could be retained while eliminating the “federal benefits” components.
    • Chief Justice Roberts also wrote that DHS’s rescission was arbitrary because the agency failed to consider the extent of the Dreamers’ reliance on the program, noting that DACA recipients have served in the military, enrolled in college, started businesses and careers, purchased homes, got married and had children, and paid taxes.  (Opinion at 24-25).
    • The Real Estate Roundtable last October joined an amicus brief in the case, led by the National Association of Home Builders, requesting that DACA remain in place. The brief explained the importance of the immigrant workforce to construction, hospitality, and building maintenance functions, stating that “DACA-eligible immigrants are a crucial component” of real estate jobs as 41% of them work in industries represented by the amici (Roundtable Weekly, October 18, 2019)
    • SCOTUS likewise noted the economic contributions of DACA beneficiaries: “[E]xcluding DACA recipients from the lawful labor force … [would] result in the loss of $215 billion in economic activity and an associated $60 billion in federal tax revenue over the next ten years.” (Opinion at 25)

    Immigration groups heralded yesterday's decision, but called for Congress to enact a permanent solution to protect DACA recipients. (The Hill, June 19) In what will surely become a contentious issue leading up to the November elections, President Trump tweeted today that his Administration will “be submitting enhanced paperwork shortly” to again try and rescind the program and eliminate protections afforded to the Dreamers. (USA Today, June 19)

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