Who (really) owns your city? How corporate landlords are using homes to make money

Who also feels like rents are always going up? Why do house prices keep rising when wages are flat in many countries? How are cities building shiny new tower blocks that then sit empty? And what are corporate landlords?

Meanwhile, many people are struggling to find affordable housing and homelessness is on the rise. Greens/EFA MEPs, Kim van Sparrentak and Ernest Urtasun, throw open the doors on Europe’s housing crisis and find out who’s really in control of our homes.

The issue is known as the ‘financialisation’ of housing.

It means that large, institutional investors or ‘corporate landlords’ have a growing footprint in our cities. Investment firms seek to purchase housing – from apartment blocks to multi-family apartments – and then rent them out to make a profit. Houses become a way of making money. A stable investment instead of a home.

Corporate landlords are mostly concentrated in Europe’s large cities – from Paris to Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam, Dublin, and Copenhagen. But the picture is diverse. Investors also have a footprint in smaller towns, in the Netherlands for instance. From these graphs and this map, you can get a picture of where investors are and an estimate of how much money is involved.

Rising rents and house prices: who really profits from Europe’s housing market?

In Spain, the biggest corporate landlord is a single company called Blackstone. Blackstone owns 40,000 housing units and 40% of all institutional investor-owned housing in Spain. When Spain’s new housing laws were being debated, Blackstone opposed a 30% target for social housing in institutional portfolios. They argued that the government should pay extra in subsidies for social housing rather than making sure companies provide it.

In Berlin, corporate landlords, like Blackstone and others, have made €40 billion from real estate in the city. Similarly, In Paris, around 43 residential investment deals amounted to at least €14 billion in the decade between 2011 and 2021. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague combined, there were approximately 120 deals amounting to €13,82 billion in value between 2013 and 2021 (and this is a low estimate due to data gaps).

This is a tale of two cities: one for corporate investors and one for the rest of us.

For those who live and work in cities, rising rents and house prices mean spending up to 40% or more of their income on accommodation each month. Rising energy prices are making the costs of heating homes higher. Many people are feeling the squeeze. Meanwhile, institutional investors (the biggest of which are from outside the EU) who don’t live in the homes they own, can mint a profit from them.

Pushing for change: how can we ensure affordable housing in the EU?

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of this. It seems hard to imagine how it could change. Cities and national governments have a big role to play. But so does the European Union. We don’t tend to think of housing as being a European issue, but European regulations and financial rules do have an impact on how countries are allowed to organise their rules towards investors.

European policymakers are starting to take notice. There are lots of ways they could help push for change. This change can help us create more affordable homes and cities, for people not profit.

This is what European policymakers can do to help fix the housing crisis:

  • Organise more regular meetings of EU housing and finance ministers, so they can exchange ideas and work together to find solutions.
  • Give cities more control over short-term rentals like AirBnB.
  • Assess how the rules for investments within the EU (the Capital Markets Union), Europe-wide banking and other financial rules actually make it easier for institutional investors to buy up housing as an asset. And then fix these rules.
  • Reveal who really owns our cities. We need more transparency on institutional ownership of housing.
  • Hold investors and corporate landlords to account when it comes to the environment (things like energy efficiency and renovations)
  • Hold investors to account on social standards (like rent controls and long-term tenancy) of the buildings they run.

These are some of the changes we would like to see from the European Union. The European Commission is responsible for proposing new policies. They can help make this happen.

The French government has the Presidency of the European Council at the moment. They are organising a ministerial meeting on housing in Nice on 7th-8th March 2022. This could be a real chance for ministers to set out their commitment to decent and affordable homes at this meeting.

My home is an asset class: a new Greens/EFA study on the financialisation of housing

The Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament has published a study (Thursday, 27 January) exploring the financialisation of housing in Europe, and what the EU can do about it.

To dive deeper into the topic find more information here: