The Current

'Like a landlord on speed': Documentary shows how trading homes on the stock market can increase your rent

A new documentary argues that the global shortage of affordable housing is not just a simple matter of neighbourhood gentrification, but something much more complex. We speak to the documentary's director, and the UN's Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, about the problem.

People don't realize their home is on stock market, says UN's special rapporteur on adequate housing

A new documentary looks at how housing being bought and sold on the stock market could be causing a global shortage of affordable housing. (Amara McLaughlin/CBC News)

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A new documentary argues that housing has become a commodity much like gold, to be bought and sold on the stock market in bulk — and that the practice is driving up rents globally.

Fredrik Gertten, director of Push, says that hedge funds can snap up real estate quickly and forcefully.

"They have more money than a normal landlord, so it's kind of almost like a landlord on speed," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The result is often an owner who lives very far away from the property, he said.

"You can't knock on his door and talk to him about your problems because your landlord is now a hedge fund ... somewhere [in a] totally different part of the world, maybe."


Leilani Farha, the United Nations' special rapporteur on adequate housing, explained that private equity firms and asset management firms "survey landscapes all around the world looking for what they call undervalued properties."

"When they find them, they buy them up with their liquid capital — backed by banks — and their model is to then refurbish the units and increase the rents, forcing people out," Farha, who is featured in Push, told Tremonti.

Leilani Farha is the United Nations' special rapporteur on adequate housing, and is featured in the documentary Push. Her work has brought her all over the world to examine how our cities serve their populations. (Janice d’Avila)

She said the business model isn't just gentrification, but a financialization of housing, driven by an "unprecedented amount of wealth."

"This is on a totally different scale. They're buying thousands of units at a time," she said.

"People living in these places don't know that their landlord is technically a shareholder, and that their unit is on the Toronto Stock Exchange."

Push premiers at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto on April 26.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Jessica Linzey.


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