Fed Cautions About Office Sector as Vacancies Climb and Loan Modifications Surge

La Salle Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Recent reports show U.S. office vacancies climbed to nearly 20% during Q1 2024 after loan modifications more than doubled last year compared to 2023. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Board Vice Chair for Supervision Michael Barr cautioned this week that federal regulators are “looking carefully at banks with heavy concentrations in office commercial real estate where there are significant, expected price declines.” (Moody’s Analytics, April 2 | CRED iQ, March 28 | (C-SPAN video, April 3)

Office Sector

  • Preliminary data from Moody’s Analytics reinforces the long-term, negative ramifications of hybrid work models. The Q1 2024 office vacancy rate set a new record at 19.8%, up from 19.6% in the prior quarter, and beating two historic peaks of 19.3% in 1986 and 1991. (Bloomberg, April 2 | Quartz, April 3 | CRE Daily, April 4)
  • “The office stress isn’t quite done yet,” said Thomas LaSalvia, Moody’s head of commercial real estate economics and an author of the report. He added, “This is part of a longer-term evolution where we are seeing obsolete buildings in obsolete neighborhoods.” (Bloomberg, April 2)
  • Brookfield’s Feb. 14 report, “The Misunderstood U.S. Office Market,” emphasizes that high vacancy rates are due to an excess of dated, functionally obsolete office buildings and an undersupply of offices that satisfy tenants’ changing needs.
  • A Roundtable-led coalition of 16 national real estate organizations urged the expansion of a 20 percent tax credit for qualified property conversion expenditures in an Oct. 12, 2022 letter to policymakers. The recommended enhancements included expanding the category of properties eligible for the credit to various types of commercial buildings such as shopping centers and hotels. (Roundtable Weekly, Nov. 11, 2022)

Fed Oversight & CRE Sectors

Federal Reserve Board Vice Chair for Supervision Michael Barr
  • The Fed’s top market supervisor told the National Community Reinvestment Coalition on April 3 that CRE refinancing deals will “take some time to work through” as the Fed closely monitors office sector conditions. (C-Span | BGov, April 3 | Roundtable Weekly, March 8)
  • Barr said, “This is the kind of thing where it is likely a slow-moving train as the financial sector and commercial real estate market move forward. Over the next two to three years, we are going to see how properties deal with refinancing in a higher interest rate environment. Occupancy rates have lowered because of work-from-home, so for some categories of office CRE they are more exposed to risk.”
Kathleen McCarthy
  • Kathleen McCarthy, global co-head of Blackstone Real Estate and chair-elect of The Real Estate Roundtable, commented to CNBC’sClosing Bell Overtime” on April 3 that the office sector is different from other CRE investment areas that have performed well. “We do feel like there’s a bottoming happening. There’s no V-shaped recovery … but we do see the cost of capital coming down, we’re seeing more liquidity in markets, and perhaps more importantly for the long term, we’re seeing a sharp decline in new supply,” she said.
  • Barron’s recognized McCarthy this week as one of the 100 Most Influential Woman in Finance. She commented on her upcoming role as Roundtable Chair: “To bring together my interest in policy and have a position to help our whole industry in Washington is really exciting.” (Barron’s, April 4)

Commercial and multifamily market conditions will be discussed during RER’s April 15-16 Spring Meeting in Washington DC (Roundtable-level members only) with guests including White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jared Bernstein,  House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and House Financial Services Member French Hill (R-AK). 

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Policymakers Emphasize Affordable Housing Incentives, Increasing Supply 

Three U.S. Senators discussed national housing policy with industry leaders and Roundtable members during this week’s State of the Industry (SOI) meeting. (See Meeting agenda)

Need for Housing Incentives

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) discussed the importance of expanding and extending the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), which was included in a tax package advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee last week by a vote of 40-3. Sen. Wyden negotiated the $77 billion bill with Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) and commended the overwhelming margin of bipartisan support in the committee vote. (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 19)
Housing Panel at RER's 2024 State of the Industry Meeting.  Moderator Kathleen McCarthy, Blackstone
  • Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), center, discussed what can be done to address U.S. housing challenges with Kathleen McCarthy, left, (Chair-Elect, The Real Estate Roundtable | Global Co-Head of Real Estate, Blackstone), and Shaun Donovan, right, (CEO and President, Enterprise Community Partners |former HUD Secretary and OMB Director). Sen. Hassan spoke about the urgent need for national policy to encourage development of more workforce housing, while Mr. Donovan noted the congressional tax bill under consideration would create 200,000 new affordable housing units.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) at RER's 2024 State of the Industry meeting
  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)– introduced by Roundtable Chair Emeritus (2012-2015) Robert Taubman (Chairman, President & CEO, Taubman Centers, Inc.) – spoke about legislative efforts to revitalize downtowns. Sen. Stabenow referred to the recent tax package as an encouraging development for affordable housing, yet noted how more is needed to incentivize conversions of commercial properties to multifamily use. Stabenow is an original co-sponsor of the Revitalizing Downtowns Act (H.R. 4759) to encourage adaptive use of older buildings.

Housing policy and incentives advocated by The Roundtable to encourage more affordable housing supply are topics weaved throughout RER’s 2024 Policy Priorities. (See Executive Summary)

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The Roundtable’s Board of Directors Announces Blackstone’s Kathleen McCarthy as Chair-Elect

The Real Estate Roundtable’s Board of Directors has elected Kathleen McCarthy (Global Co-Head of Blackstone Real Estate) as Chair-Elect to begin her three-year term as Roundtable Chair on July 1, 2024.

Roundtable Chair-Elect

  • Chair-Elect McCarthy will succeed Roundtable Chair John Fish (Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Suffolk) on July 1.

  • “The Real Estate Roundtable and its Board of Directors are thrilled to announce Kathleen McCarthy as our Chair-Elect,” said Mr. Fish. “Kathleen is an extraordinary leader in the real estate industry and has been a key contributor to The Roundtable’s mission as a member of our Board. Her extensive experience and expertise as co-head of the world’s largest real estate platform brings a unique and invaluable perspective to our policy discussions.”

  • Mr. Fish added, “Kathleen’s fact-based approach and understanding of policies impacting commercial real estate will help advance policies that benefit communities, create jobs and accelerate economic growth. I am delighted that Kathleen will be the next Chair of The Real Estate Roundtable.”

  • Ms. McCarthy stated, “I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to serve as Chair of the Real Estate Roundtable and build upon the important work being done by John, Jeff and the entire Roundtable team. The opportunities and challenges facing our industry require innovative approaches and strong engagement between the public and private sectors. Advocacy for policies in an industry that touches so many aspects of everyday life is crucial and I’m committed to advancing our sector for the benefit of communities across the nation.”

  • Blackstone Real Estate is the largest owner of commercial real estate globally with a $585 billion real estate portfolio and $333 billion in investor capital under management (as of June 30, 2023).

Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey D. DeBoer commented, “I am excited about our Board’s decision to select Kathleen McCarthy as our Chair-Elect, and look forward to working more extensively with her as we continue The Real Estate Roundtable’s solid track record of driving change in our industry for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

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The Real Estate Roundtable’s Board of Directors Announces Blackstone’s Kathleen McCarthy as Chair-Elect

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — The Real Estate Roundtable’s Board of Directors has elected Kathleen McCarthy (Global Co-Head of Blackstone Real Estate) as Chair-Elect, to begin her three-year term as Roundtable Chair on July 1, 2024.

Chair-Elect McCarthy will succeed John Fish (Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Suffolk) who has served as Roundtable Chair since 2021.

“The Real Estate Roundtable and its Board of Directors are thrilled to announce Kathleen McCarthy as our Chair-Elect,” said Mr. Fish. “Kathleen is an extraordinary leader in the real estate industry and has been a key contributor to The Roundtable’s mission as a member of our Board. Her extensive experience and expertise as co-head of the world’s largest real estate platform brings a unique and invaluable perspective to our policy discussions.”

Mr. Fish added, “Kathleen’s fact-based approach and understanding of policies impacting commercial real estate will help advance policies that benefit communities, create jobs and accelerate economic growth. I am delighted that Kathleen will be the next Chair of The Real Estate Roundtable.”

Ms. McCarthy stated, “I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to serve as Chair of the Real Estate Roundtable and build upon the important work being done by John, Jeff and the entire Roundtable team. The opportunities and challenges facing our industry require innovative approaches and strong engagement between the public and private sectors. Advocacy for policies in an industry that touches so many aspects of everyday life is crucial and I’m committed to advancing our sector for the benefit of communities across the nation.”

Roundtable President and CEO, Jeffrey D. DeBoer commented, “I am excited about our Board’s decision to select Kathleen McCarthy as our Chair-Elect, and look forward to working more extensively with her as we continue The Real Estate Roundtable’s solid track record of driving change in our industry for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

About Kathleen McCarthy

Kathleen McCarthy is the Global Co-Head of Blackstone Real Estate. Blackstone is the largest owner of commercial real estate globally with a $585 billion real estate portfolio and $333 billion in investor capital under management (as of June 30, 2023). Blackstone Real Estate is an industry leader in opportunistic, core plus and debt investing across North America, Europe and Asia. Ms. McCarthy focuses on driving performance and growth for Blackstone’s Real Estate business.

Ms. McCarthy previously served as Global Chief Operating Officer of Blackstone Real Estate. Before joining Blackstone in 2010, Ms. McCarthy worked at Goldman Sachs, where she focused on investments for the Real Estate Principal Investment Area. Ms. McCarthy began her career at Goldman Sachs in the Mergers & Acquisitions Group.

Ms. McCarthy received a BA with Distinction from Yale University. She serves on the Boards of City Harvest, the Real Estate Roundtable, the PREA Foundation, and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and is the President of the Board of Trustees of The Nightingale-Bamford School.

About John Fish

The Real Estate Roundtable’s Board of Directors is chaired by John Fish, who is Chairman and CEO of Suffolk. Under his vision and leadership, Suffolk has grown into one of the leading privately held general building contractors in the country. With over $4.5 billion in annual revenue, Suffolk is currently ranked #23 on the Engineering News-Record national list of “Top 400 Contractors.”

He serves on numerous Boards focused on improving the economy, strengthening business and creating jobs. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the Real Estate Board of New York and a member of the Partnership for New York City and New York Building Congress.

Mr. Fish is a graduate of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science.  He received an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering Technology Degree from Wentworth Institute of Technology. He is also the recipient of an honorary degree from Regis College and Curry College

About The Real Estate Roundtable

The Real Estate Roundtable brings together leaders of the nation’s top publicly-held and privately-owned real estate ownership, development, lending and management firms with leaders of major national real estate trade organizations to jointly address key national policy issues relating to real estate and its important role in the global economy. 

The collective value of assets held by Roundtable members exceeds $4 trillion. The Roundtable’s membership represents more than 3 million people working in real estate; 12 billion square feet of office, retail and industrial space; over 4 million apartments; and more than 5 million hotel rooms. It also includes the owners, managers, developers and financiers of senior, student, and manufactured housing—as well as medical offices, life science campuses, data centers, cell towers, and self-storage properties.

The Roundtable’s policy news and more are available on The Roundtable website.

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