Blackstone, other investors snap up thousands of Tampa Bay rental homes

Ken and Susan Beran embodied that old idea of the American dream. They married. Built a house. Raised a daughter within its walls. But after 30 years, as Ken eyed retirement, the Berans envisioned a different dream. In December, they moved to a new home — this time, to rent. Ken said he can’t imagine ever buying a home again. Susan, a first-grade teacher, hasn’t felt so calm in years. “I’m leaving a building I had to maintain, had to stress over,” Susan said. “I’m taking all of my memories with me.”

Bad credit, ravaged savings and evolving attitudes are driving more Americans to rent houses, and big-money investors are waging war to win their business. Few are mightier than the Blackstone Group, which dropped $150 million to buy 1,000 Tampa Bay homes — in just the last six months.

The New York-based private equity giant has already bet $3.5 billion across the country that the housing crisis has fundamentally changed the way many families live. Once-proud homeowners like the Berans, they believe, are beginning to reject home ownership altogether.

The next generation may do the same. “Millennials” between their late teens and early 30s have so far spoken with their wallets that they like driving borrowed Zipcars, watching Netflix and renting bikes, tools and dresses. Investors are betting millennials will apply that thinking to the biggest expense of their lives.

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