• Real estate

    Real estate

    Germany’s non-profit media outlet Correct!v crowdsourced rental contracts from residents to understand who controls the real estate market in cities across the country, publishing their findings in partnership with local media outlets. The project uncovered many stories, including how pension funds are fueling rent rises, how the city of Hamburg owns a real estate giant that frequently raises tenants’ rents, and the need for a public real estate register to help combat money laundering. First piloted in Hamburg, the investigation has expanded to cover nearly twenty European cities. 

    Who owns your city?

    A lack of affordable housing is a dire issue for tenants in many cities around the world, driven in part by financialization of housing, speculation and profit-maximising investors. The project, Wem Gehört Die Stadt (Who Owns Our Cities), seeks to make those structures and actors visible and to inform the public debate on political solutions to promote urban development for the common good.

    Used Pathways

    Most tenants know who their landlords are and they have the rental contracts to prove it. The initial investigation mapped Hamburg’s real estate market by crowdsourcing information from citizens. Correct!v developed a special platform, called CrowdNewsroom, for collecting and reviewing their submissions. People were asked a simple question: “What is the name of the owner of your flat?”, and could attach a copy of their rental contract. It took a big awareness-raising campaign to get the word out about the project. Even then, the submissions trickled in at first, but snowballed after housing co-ops publicly supported the project and gave their datasets to Correct!v.  With up to a thousand tip-offs in each city, they could show which problems appeared to be systemic rather than caused by a few bad landlords.  
    Company documents, such as annual financial statements, lists of subsidiaries, website, and press releases, revealed information about investors’ real estate portfolios.
    Correct!v worked with local media partners to tell a series of human-interest stories based on the initial crowdsourced tip-offs. They interviewed residents to explain the context and consequences of what they were seeing in the data.  
    Correct!v also collected housing data from official sources. They identified three main sources that could help answer the question “who owns our cities”: census data, real estate registers, and company registers, which are accessible to varying degrees in different jurisdictions.
    Reports about specific properties or districts were featured in an array of user-friendly formats. For example, visitors to the “Who Owns Berlin” website could browse stories on a city map or search a directory.
    As the project expanded, Correct!v gathered enough housing data to make comparisons of ownership structures in different cities. For example, while owner-occupiers account for more than 70% of the housing market in Madrid and Athens, they account for just 8% in Zurich, where big private owners hold the highest share at 28%. 

    The investigation also identified large pan-European investors that own residential real estate in at least three countries.

    What IMPACT after the investigation?

    The pilot investigation in Hamburg crowdsourced 1000 submissions from the public and revealed the ownership of 15,000 apartments (source). Correct!v worked with tenants associations and other grassroots groups to amplify the reach and exposure of the project. This decentralised approach helped put housing on the public agenda, prompting reactions from politicians. To date, Correct!v has replicated the project in 19 major cities with local media partners in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and contributions from tens of thousands of residents.

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