Sunday, June 26, 2022

TikToker behind viral ‘broke Bobby’ meme is a Wilmington landlord

WILMINGTON – A Wilmington landlord with hundreds of properties in the area who has profited off Section 8 housing was trending on Twitter Thursday for a TikTok that spurred sharp criticism and memes. 

Tom Cruz’s since-deleted video (uploaded by a different user now circulating on Twitter), depicts the real estate investor’s pragmatic approach to vacation planning with his friends. In a spreadsheet, potential vacationers in his “Forbes friends list” report their six-figure incomes, relationship status, willingness to travel to “third world” countries, their propensity for gambling, interest in booking a private jet, and eligible vacation time. 

The lowest-income earner, who he said his friend group calls “broke Bobby,” will take home a projected $125,000 this year (Bobby is an accountant, Cruz revealed in a follow-up TikTok shared Thursday). 

Response to the video ranged from lighthearted memes to serious criticism, perceiving Cruz as out of touch. “Imagine making 6 figures and still being called the ‘broke friend,'” one viral response observed.

Cruz, in the meantime, is soaking up the national spotlight –– “all publicity is good publicity,” he responded to a commenter –– using the added eyes to promote his real estate courses. He did not immediately respond to a request to comment. 

As promised, Cruz shared a “welfare 10” list Thursday, featuring a similar spreadsheet organizing friends who earn less than $100,000. The spreadsheets help avoid awkward encounters related to money, streamline vacation planning, and cut down on wasted time, he explained.

On TikTok, where Cruz has more than 820,000 followers, he shares a variety of videos, many showcasing the wealth he’s amassed. In MTV “Cribs”-styled walkthroughs, the investor has shared his million-dollar renovations, with views of the Intracoastal Waterway (even the tile floor in the garage is heated). He’s reviewed local roofers, including a shoutout to Carolina Beach-based R W Mason Roofing for not hitting him with the “Ferrari tax” and fairly pricing a small repair job.

Mostly, the investor narrates instructional videos explaining how to make money in real estate, specifically, using his scheme of choice: “Section 8 arbitrage.” He purchases low-income housing in the Wilmington area using federally backed loans, then fills the homes with tenants under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s housing choice voucher program, in which the government makes guaranteed payments to landlords on behalf of pre-screened low-income tenants. 

Cruz is unapologetic in his approach and frequently engages with “social justice warrior clowns” who critique his style. 

“You claim I take advantage of Section 8. Well, I most definitely do,” he explained on TikTok last week responding to a critic. “They’re paying anywhere from $1,400 to $1,500 per unit. I’m buying them from 70 to $80,000 a door. It’s a program. They offer it. I take advantage of it.”

In June, Cruz responded to a commenter who doubted he was netting $1,300 per unit through Section 8. He shared a Wilmington Housing Authority annual re-examination of rent notice, explaining the mismatch of supply and demand in the local market and landlords’ unwillingness to rent to Section 8 tenants have forced the program to increase its local rent ceiling because there’s nowhere in town available at a lower rate. “That’s a three-bedroom in Wilmington. That should go only for $1,300 a month. They approved it at $1,500 a month for a unit that I might have paid $85,000 for two years ago,” he said. “That’s how you get rich rich.”

When the Kidder Street shooting occurred, Cruz responded from a landlord’s perspective. Multiple shooters killed three and shot and injured four young adults and minors in the midnight April 3 carnage. The investor filmed a video covering “the downsides to real estate” in the hours following the massacre, still unsure whether it took place in one of his properties, as he owned several on that street. Responding to a commenter who sarcastically wondered how he would pay his bills now, he said “I wasn’t saying this would affect me financially” and added the smirking face emoji. 

On Facebook, where he’s since scrubbed his posts, Cruz has shared a video of a tenant getting evicted. In a January 2019 post, Cruz was hunting for rentals under $110,000: “Anyone with off market listings, upcoming listings, hurricane houses, hell I don’t care if your uncle Ray-Ray was trappin out the house last week, if you have equitable and clear title, I’m buying it.”

The ’06 UNCW grad boasts a portfolio of hundreds of properties in the area, mostly filled through Section 8. Wednesday, he posted a stack of New Hanover County tax bills, reportedly totaling upwards of $400,000 in annual property taxes. In February, he shared a video inside the New Hanover County tax office, as an employee printed and folded a tax bill for hundreds of properties, resembling a CVS receipt. 

The following month, he closed a deal on a 100-unit portfolio in Wilmington, which he reportedly bought in 2018 for $6.3 million and sold for $10 million under the LLC “TJ Real Estate Holdings.” 

The Greater Wilmington Business Journal reported on the 2018 transaction of 83 downtown historic homes with 93 rental units located between Seventh and 17th streets; just two years prior, the Olson family purchased the same portfolio for $4.9 million. By filling these homes with reliable, Section 8 tenants who are guaranteed to pay on time through the federal program, paired with recent market appreciation, Cruz drastically beefed up the portfolio’s value.

Today, county records show no properties owned under that LLC; it’s not immediately clear which LLC Cruz is currently operating under. Cruz’s March closing was the highest appreciation and highest portfolio price sale in Wilmington ever recorded, he claimed.

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