Up to $2.7 billion worth of commercial mortgages held by Wall Street investors against Philadelphia-area property is being monitored for potential default as damage from the coronavirus mounts.

The figure was the sum “watchlisted” for potential nonpayment in May, according to new data from the loan-analysis specialists Cred IQ. The total sum, the most recent figure available, jumped 74% from March, when the pandemic began to drive down the economy, Cred IQ reported.

The firm, based in Radnor, studies data that accumulate as commercial loans are packaged into what are called commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS, for sale to investors. Nationally, the amount of such watchlisted debt surged 84% to nearly $100 billion over that time, the data show.

Analysts blamed the entire increase, both nationally and locally, on the pandemic, underscoring deepening concern that owners of all types of property will begin missing mortgage payments en masse, as shuttered or otherwise cash-starved tenants increasingly fail to make rent.

“We’ve shut the economy down: It was like flipping a switch,” said Christophe Terlizzi, who heads KeyBank’s commercial real estate practice in the region. “I can’t imagine there are many properties right now that are not impacted.“

Cred IQ tagged problematic loans by whether their issues were or were not related to the virus. In Philadelphia and surrounding Pennsylvania and South Jersey counties, there were 80 loans totaling $1.5 billion in debt in May for which COVID-19 was cited as a reason for their being watchlisted, up from seven loans totaling $189.6 million in March, according to Cred IQ. They include the Hilton Penn’s Landing hotel, the Montgomery Mall in North Wales, the View at Montgomery student housing tower near Temple University, and the Fillmore Philadelphia concert venue.

The data reveal just a portion of the region’s full tally of mortgages that could be headed for trouble, since they only reflect the performance of openly traded CMBS debt, for which there are public disclosure requirements.

No such requirements exist for loans that are privately held by banks or other financial institutions, which make up more than half of mortgages nationwide, according to a calculation by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group.

While some tenant revenue could start ramping up with the relaxation of business restrictions throughout the region in July, Mike Haas, Cred IQ’s managing partner, said damage to the market will be lasting.

“We expect distressed properties and delinquencies to keep trending upward over this time of uncertainty,” he said.

Montgomery Mall in Montgomeryville is among area properties on a list of commercial properties whose loans are on a "watchlist."
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Montgomery Mall in Montgomeryville is among area properties on a list of commercial properties whose loans are on a "watchlist."

Originators of CMBS loans bundle multiple mortgages into bond-like instruments for sale to investors, rather than retaining the loans to collect interest themselves, as is typical with most traditional bank loans.

Since CMBS are traded by investors on the open market, their overseers — known as “master servicers” — are required to issue public disclosures about the underlying mortgages, such as the loans’ balances and payment statuses.

When master servicers have a reason to think borrowers might start missing payments, they’re required to place those loans on watchlists as a warning sign to investors of potential default.

Loans are removed from watchlists if the danger of default passes. But if one occurs, the loans are assigned to another type of manager known as a “special servicer,” whose job it is to recover as much money from the distressed property as possible for investors.

Servicers will at times extend forbearance, allowing borrowers to delay loan payments or to make payments using funds held in escrow for other purposes. In other situations, they might supervise a property’s foreclosure and resale, with proceeds from the transaction being distributed among investors.

Banks have the same set of options available to them, but are more likely to offer distressed borrowers forbearance than to foreclose on their properties, said Michael Fay, a principal, managing director, and head of the asset-resolution team at brokerage firm Avison Young.

This is partly because of the agreements under which the servicers are hired to represent investors’ interests, which gives them less leeway than banks for negotiation, Fay said.

Moreover, there are only about a dozen or so special servicer firms operating in the country, while there are thousands of banks, so servicers are less able to offer customized responses to the rapidly expanding volume of troubled debt that the growing watchlists may presage, he said.

Special servicers have about as much work on their hands as they did when the real estate market was feeling the brunt of the last recession a decade ago, Fay said.

“But that happened over a three-year period,” he said. “This is over a three-month period.”

Last week, dozens of U.S. House members from both parties, led by Van Taylor (R., Texas), signed a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell asking them to establish a loan program aimed at CMBS borrowers in danger of foreclosure.

“Without a long-term relief plan in the face of an elongated crisis, CMBS borrowers could face a historic wave of foreclosures starting this fall, impacting local communities and destroying jobs for Americans across the country,” wrote the letter’s signatories, who included Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) and Jeff Van Drew (R., N.J.).

Crown Plaza at King of Prussia Mall. The mortgage for this hotel is also on the "watchlist."
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Crown Plaza at King of Prussia Mall. The mortgage for this hotel is also on the "watchlist."

Measured by their number among watchlisted loans, the Philadelphia-region’s hotels are the property type that has been hit hardest by the coronavirus, a consequence of stay-at-home orders that have restricted most travel. Regionwide, there are 25 watchlisted hotel loans accounting for $341 million in debt.

The biggest outstanding loan balance among them, for $70 million, is held by the owner of the Hilton Penn’s Landing, an affiliate of developer Daniel J. Keating III, which had been late on a recent payment before being granted relief by its servicer, according to Cred IQ. Keating did not respond to a message.

In Montgomery County, meanwhile, the Buccini Pollin Group of Wilmington is between 30 and 59 days delinquent on its debt service for the $35.9 million it owes against the Crowne Plaza and Fairfield Inn hotels it owns near the King of Prussia Mall. A message for Buccini Pollin was not returned.

By the total amount owed, retail properties are the most impacted, as shuttered shops and restaurant dining rooms leave chefs and merchants with little income to put toward rent. The Cred IQ data show $484.6 million in watchlisted debt against retail properties, spread across 24 loans.

The highest CMBS loan balance in the region on a retail property is the $100 million owed against the Montgomery Mall by Simon Property Group, the nation’s biggest mall landlord. Simon is up to 30 days late on at least part of that debt, the data show. A message for Simon was not returned.

The owner of the One & Olney shopping center at Olney Avenue and Front Street in North Philadelphia, meanwhile, has asked for “COVID-19 relief” on its payments toward the $50 million it owes against the property, according to Cred IQ. That owner, a unit of Wharton Realty Group in Eatontown, N.J., did not respond to an email.

Meanwhile, in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood, the owner of the Fillmore Philadelphia entertainment complex, Michael Samschick, appears to be sharing in the struggles of the property’s main tenant, Live Nation Entertainment Inc.

Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert promoter, has said it would try to renegotiate rents at the venues that it occupies, as live music performances are halted to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The situation has left Samschick between one and two months delinquent on payments toward the $24.5 million he owes against the property near Frankford and North Delaware Avenues, according to Cred IQ. He did not respond to a phone message.

The region’s apartment buildings were another big contributor to the list of mortgages in danger of default due to the coronavirus, accounting for $387.6 million, across 15 loans.

Topping off that list is the 832-bed View student housing tower at 12th Street and Montgomery Avenue, amid Temple University’s campus, whose owners, an affiliate of the Goldenberg Group, owed a total of $92.8 million across two mortgages.

The View’s troubles are being felt across the student-housing sector, which had been showing signs of oversupply even before class cancellations zapped demand for dorm beds. Like the nearby View, the Edge Student Village tower a few blocks away near Broad and Oxford Streets had been watchlisted months before being tagged as impacted by the pandemic, as it too competed for tenants in a crowded marketplace, according to the Cred IQ data.

Goldenberg chief operating officer Seth Shapiro said his company will be able to stay current on its payments after reaching a forbearance arrangement for the loan, which is backed by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., known as Freddie Mac. Loans backed by Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored housing-finance agency, were made eligible for forbearance by a provision of April’s coronavirus relief bill.

A message for the Edge’s Australia-based owner, Campus Living Villages PTY, was not returned.

The Edge Student Village, near Broad and Oxford Streets.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
The Edge Student Village, near Broad and Oxford Streets.

Beyond student housing, apartment properties such as the Creekside Apartments complex along Knights Road in Bensalem also appear to have come under stress.

Nearly $67 million in debt against that sprawling property was watchlisted after its owners — last listed as an affiliate of Feit Management Co. of Hollywood, Fla. — reported that its operations had been impacted by COVID-19, according to Cred IQ. A message left with the complex’s management yielded no response.

In Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood, meanwhile, the $45 million owed against the Bridge on Race apartments at Second and Race Streets was watchlisted after its owner, Brown Hill Development, received pandemic-related forbearance.

Brown Hill partner Jeff Brown said that nearly all of the building’s residents, as well as its ground-floor commercial tenants, have so far been staying current on their rent and that no loan payments had been missed.

Still, as unemployment rose in the country due to the health crisis, Brown Hill’s lenders “reached out to us and suggested that we work out some sort of forbearance arrangement because they suspected we would have tenants that are in trouble.”