Financialization of housing, speculation and profit-maximizing investors, lack of transparency and regulation - together they make prices explode and homes unaffordable for tenants in many cities around the world. With the project “who owns our cities” the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation wants to contribute to make those structures and actors visible and to inform the public debate on political solutions.
In most countries and cities the biggest share of housing is owned by those who live in it and by the banks that gave the loans to buy it. At the same time, nearly every city has private owners that own and rent out individual apartments as well as private owners that own numerous houses and big chunks of land often passed on from generation to generation. Many cities also have considerable public, cooperative or non-profit housing stocks. On the other hand, big, pan-European and financialized housing companies and investment funds focused on residential real estate are a rather new and in many cities still rather rare phenomenon. The distribution of the housing stock among these groups of owners shapes the structure of the housing market and with this structure the resulting problems differ from from city to city.
With more than 90% of apartments rented, Zurich is Europe’s capital of tenants, followed closely by Leipzig and Berlin. Over the last years, the by far biggest share of European investments from professional, financial market-based investors went to Germany and in particular to Berlin.
In most countries and cities the residential real estate market - in contrast to commercial real estate - is traditionally a local business. Cross-border investments are rather rare. Nevertheless, through a series of mergers and sometimes driven by the privatization of public housing stock some big pan-European private housing giants have been created over the last year.
Until now we have identified eight investors that own residential real estate in at least three of the cities analyzed by us in at least three different countries - apart from one, all of them are also invested in Berlin and have by far the biggest housing stock there. While the big private housing companies transparently report the distribution of their housing stocks, most of the big asset managers and professional investors don’t even report the total assets invested into residential real estate in Europe.
There are three main sources that can help to answer the question “who owns our cities”. Not for every city they are equally good and accessible:
In most European countries the statistical office surveys tenants and owners of residential real estate for the census regularly at least every 10 years. Switzerland and several other countries even publish annual statistics based on automatic analysis of existing registers. In contrast Spain doesn’t publish any data disaggregated at the city-level.
Every European city has a real estate register - even though registration is not compulsory everywhere. Most of the cities analyzed make their register publicly available. In some cases high costs (Spain) or the requirement to prove a legitimate interest (Germany, Athens) make accessing the data difficult. In others it is available as open data or at least as a complete commercially available dataset (UK, France, Denmark, Czech Republic, Austria) - sometimes limited to legal entities.
Because the real estate register partly contains legal entities, it is necessary to connect the information from the real estate register to the local and international company registers to identify the final owner. Just like with the real estate register some countries provide open data access and even have public data on the final (beneficial owner) for every local company while others limit access through high costs and still haven’t implemented the EU requirement to make beneficial ownership information publicly accessible.
Further background to the project, project partners and similar local projects as well as further information can be found here: