Growthpoint launches SA’s first Student Accommodation REIT which will be unlisted

Studios at Burnett in Pretoria.

Growthpoint Properties has launched South Africa’s first unlisted purpose-built student accommodation REIT, the third specialist, unlisted alternative REIT to be launched under its funds management business.

Internationally, the thriving purpose-built student accommodation sector is giving rise to the growth of specialist REITs, attracting record capital inflows by outperforming based on consistently high occupancies and rental growth.

Locally, the launch of Growthpoint Student REIT has opened focused investor access to this defensive alternative asset class.

The introduction for the purpose-built student accommodation REIT received strong market interest with its first close exceeding expectations and attracting third-party capital commitments of some R1.1 billion (R1.5 billion in total) including the capital commitments from Growthpoint and Feenstra Group, one of the largest seed portfolio vendors.

Growthpoint’s R240 million investment represents a 16% shareholding in the unlisted REIT, in line with its co-investment philosophy that underpins its funds management business. It will remain a core investor in the fund, owning between 5% and 20% of the equity in the REIT in future. Feenstra’s R160 million gives it an 11% holding with a three year ‘lock-in’ commitment.

As the fund manager, Growthpoint assumes overall responsibility for the success of the Student REIT, while Feenstra will take on the property manager role.

Its R2 billion seed portfolio comprises of seven high-quality, purpose-built student accommodation properties acquired from a group of vendors led by Feenstra. A two-year rental underpin, to mitigate against short-term impacts of Covid-19, was included in the deal. After conclusion of the acquisition, the Student REIT launched in December 2021.

The unlisted Student REIT gives investors exposure to direct real estate that tends to be driven by long-term fundamentals rather than listed real estate volatility driven by short-term sentiment. However, Growthpoint’s control ensures excellent governance oversight frameworks, extensive dedicated ESG resources and regular investment income from its six-monthly dividend payment policy.

The demand for specialised student accommodation in South Africa far outstrips supply, making it an attractive investment. Given the constrained fiscal budget, to address the shortfall, the Government and Universities have shifted student accommodation provision from universities to partnerships with the private sector. This is a very positive step for all stakeholders and will contribute towards job creation as new developments are rolled out. This growing market remains disaggregated, and as SA’s first unlisted REIT investing in this asset class, Growthpoint Student REIT is poised to become the institutional player of reference in the sector that is likely to re-rate in the next decade” comments Head of Corporate Finance at Growthpoint, George Muchanva.

The massive demand for quality student accommodation in South Africa is driven, in part, by the demographics of a young population. Education accounts for a significant share of public and family budgets, and Government’s commitment to tertiary education supports purpose-built student accommodation.

“An investment in the Growthpoint Student REIT is also an opportunity to invest for positive social and economic impact. Education is a major social need in South Africa. Around 60% of students in the fund’s initial portfolio are from low-income households and supported by the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Their student accommodation provides them with a conducive learning and living environment, improving education outcomes,” he adds.

The REIT’s NSFAS-approved, Gauteng-based portfolio is geographically split between Pretoria (71%) and Johannesburg. Each property is only a short walk from the University of Pretoria or the University of Johannesburg campuses. All have a history of high occupancy levels and rental growth, notwithstanding the disruption to education, and the ability to attend lectures in person, experienced since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Growthpoint Student REIT has several acquisition and development opportunities on the horizon, including an immediate growth portfolio of two development projects currently underway and opening in time for the 2023 academic year, a further acquisition of a Feenstra property under development, and another asset which will commence construction later this year.

The Growthpoint Student REIT furthers Growthpoint’s strategy to introduce new co-investment opportunities that leverage its management strength. Growthpoint’s funds management business is now actively managing three funds. It first commenced Lango (formerly Growthpoint Investec African Properties) in 2018. Lango’s assets have since grown to USD$650 million with over USD$300 million third-party funding raised, and it has emerged as a leader in the African real estate market. Growthpoint Healthcare Property Holdings launched later in 2018 and as SA’s first unlisted REIT focused exclusively on healthcare property investment, has now grown its assets to R3.2 billion and raised over R2 billion of third-party funding.

Norbert Sasse, Group CEO of Growthpoint, says: “Funds management provides Growthpoint and our co-investors with access to alternative opportunities in the unlisted and co-invested environment. We are pleased that our funds management platform has gained even stronger momentum with the launch of the Growthpoint Student REIT and continues to attract third-party capital successfully. Growthpoint remains committed to adding depth to the real estate market for the broader investment community. Ultimately, growing our funds management further diversifies our assets and harnesses new opportunities to create sustainable value.”

Growthpoint aims to grow the new Student REIT towards R12 billion in assets and a stock exchange listing within seven years.