The trend for major financial firms to operate as landlords is attracting condemnation across Europe and America, surprisingly even catching the attention of comedian Russell Brand.
In the US asset management companies Blackstone and Blackrock are major players in the market, reportedly buying up clusters of single family homes, while the latter is said to have paid 20-50% above asking prices to outbid normal buyers.
Last year J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, tweeted: “Blackrock is pursuing an investment strategy that will make it harder for young Americans to own homes.”
Blackstone has been buying homes with a financial product which mixes residential mortgage-backed securities, collateralised by home values, and commercial real estate-backed securities, collateralised by expected rental income.
Meanwhile institutional investors have created REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), enabling investors to buy shares of real estate like a corporate stock. They effectively mean funding to buy properties comes from across the globe, from Qatar to the British Virgin Islands.
Daniel Immergluck, a professor of urban studies at Georgia State University, told the New York Times: “During one of the greatest recoveries of land value in the history of the country, from 2010 and 2011 at the bottom of the crisis to now, we’ve seen huge gains in property values, especially in suburbs, and instead of that accruing to many moderate-income and middle-income homeowners, many of whom were pushed out of the homeownership market during the crisis, that land value has accrued to these big companies and their shareholders.”
Last year the World Economic Forum predicted that by 2030 ‘You’ll own nothing, and you’ll be happy’, which seems to have touched a nerve for many people.
Russell Brand took to his YouTube channel to tell his 4.86 million subscribers: “The more you go into the story, the more you see what the pieces are for a dumb idiom like ‘you will own nothing and you will be happy’. [You will say] ‘No I won’t, I’m going to keep hold of my stuff’.
“No, what’ll happen is there’ll be crises, and in that crisis stuff will happen to you that you couldn’t anticipate and you won’t be able to control it because you’re a little person and the government won’t support you, they support the interests of powerful people.
“Then what will happen is they will exploit that opportunity to own more and more things till eventually you’re left with nothing, creating a more and more unequal society with a tiny, tiny, elite, where everybody else is just out in some barren wasteland, owning nothing, having no resources and forced to just be pitted against one another like it’s a bloody Hunger Games or something in order to survive for an oligarchy of the increasingly powerful.
“A mega corporation, in this case Blackrock, are making it impossible for ordinary people to own their own homes, fulfilling the terrifying prophecy, ‘you will be happy and you will own nothing’.”
Institutional investors are also having a big impact in central Europe.
As explored by the European Parliamentary political group, GREENS/EFA, between them real estate companies like German giant Vonovia; private equity companies like Blackstone; as well as pension funds like ABP, the Dutch pension fund for government and education employees; are renting out £40 billion of Berlin’s houses.
This is roughly double the combined value of institutionally owned houses in London and Amsterdam.
This domination of major companies in Berlin perhaps goes some way to explaining why tenants have become so militant in the city.
Data from the European Public Real Estate Association shows that some 30% of Europe’s €2.7 trillion of property assets are owned by private equity funds, while EU listed property companies and REITs owned 20% in 2026. Another 16% was owned by insurance companies pension funds and sovereign wealth funds.
GREENS/EFA recommended for housing to be treated as a separate asset class, in a bid to regulate institutional landlords and minimise ‘social washing’, where the impact of an investment’s impact on people’s rights is falsely overstated.