Towards socially sustainable listed residential real estate companies? : Examining the narratives of Heimstaden and the impact of its practices on tenants against the backdrop of a tense socio-political climate in Berlin
Abstract: Understanding the financialization of rental housing across space becomes increasingly important as residential listed real estate operating companies (REOCs) like Heimstaden expand their investments beyond their national borders. Especially as this comes at a time when there is a growing shortage of affordable housing in several European cities. Despite Heimstaden's growing portfolio in several European countries and its emphasis on a socially sustainable investment strategy, there has been insufficient research on its investment trajectories in practice. This study, therefore, examines Heimstaden's investment narratives and the impact of its practices on tenants in Berlin against the backdrop of a tense socio-political climate, i.e., a shortage of affordable housing, a strong tenant base, and regulatory pressure on rents. Multiple methods of data collection, including document analysis, interviews, and a tenant survey sent to the critical mass of Heimstaden's tenants, enabled the study to explore tenants' experiences with Heimstaden in Berlin, as well as how the local political context influenced Heimstaden's investment trajectories. The results of the study show how Heimstaden found a gap in Berlin’s rental market by securing financial gains through extensive marketing, an investment approach based on more affordable rent setting, and increasingly bowing to local socio-political pressure. Although, Heimstaden does not fully live up to its claims, a more tenant-centred approach helps Heimstaden to maintain positive legitimacy and reputation with stakeholders and shareholders to avoid becoming a target of criticism. In other words, the study suggests that after intense criticism of the aggressive practices of previous financial landlords, Heimstaden is adapting to a higher level of social sustainability in their investment narratives and practices to ensure continued and long-term accumulation of financial assets in the Berlin rental market.
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