Methodology: Data visualisation

Corporate landlords are companies that own many homes and sell them or rent them out for profit. They are thought to be among the biggest private landlords in European cities, but it’s not clear how many homes they do own and have owned, and where, and how those figures have been changing over time.

One of the charts produced as part of the project

When we decided to investigate corporate landlords, our main aim was to visualise how many homes these companies owned in the cities we were covering, and how that number had been evolving as corporate landlords bought and sold homes (usually by acquiring and selling whole buildings).

As an even more ambitious goal, we aim at getting the addresses and the dates of acquisition and sale of buildings owned by corporate landlords, with the objective of mapping the spread of homes owned by those companies in our cities.

One of the maps produced as part of the project

Then we also want to visualise the correlations between the number of homes owned by corporate landlords in particular cities and the evolution of indexes connected to housing affordability, like rental prices and household income. While correlation is not causation, we believe that in this case how those data relate to each other should be part of an informed public debate about housing and the role corporate landlords play in our cities.

As we explain in the pages about our research and its limitations, finding out exactly how many homes these companies own and have sold in different cities is proving to be very challenging, due to a lack of transparency from corporate landlords and difficulties to get data that are meaningfully comparable across cities.

There are exceptions, like Swedish company Akelius, which is probably the most transparent one we’ve encountered regarding how many homes it owns across cities (on the other hand, Akelius has also been accused of abusing its tenants rights, including by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing).

One of the map produced as part of the project

While mapping the amount and spread of homes owned by corporate landlords per city continues to be a work in progress, in the reporting with our media partners we have also been making other kinds of data visible to inform about and explain the issues surrounding corporate landlords’ role and impact on housing markets across European cities.

As well as producing mappings of some corporate landlords (like Akelius and Heimstaden, also based in Sweden but owned by a Norwegian fund), and some particular cities (like Athens, Berlin, Dublin, Paris, Prague and Zurich), we got and visualised in different ways data covering all our cities or countries about:

  • the money being invested into housing per city, company and type of investor, and geographical origin of the capital;
  • rental prices, household income and housing cost overburden rate by cities and compared to country averages;
  • population and urbanisation rate per city;
  • share of tenants in the population per country;
  • and other data like the results of an EU-wide survey about how easy it is to find good housing at a reasonable price (short answer in almost every city: not easy at all), and what are the housing regulations in place per country.
One of the charts produced as part of the project

Another big challenge was how to visualise very different data indexes covering so many different cities in quite a few countries in a comparable way, and to produce visualisations that would work for all our different publishing partners.

In Cities for Rent, the data visualisation work was led and coordinated by the Tagesspiegel Innovation Lab. Our colleagues there worked very hard and showed a good amount of ingenuity and flexibility to develop a system that made possible for journalists and media outlets in 16 countries to generate visualisations that, while in the same style, could be customised to focus on their own cities and countries and be described in their languages.

You can see a list of the stories published so far under Cities for Rent on the home page of this site. And you can read more about our research methodology and its limitations, and you can browse our data catalogue. If you have any comment or question, or if you would like to contribute data or to work on the issue of corporate landlords, please do get in touch.