The Charlotte Observer | The News & Observer, 2023
Author(s): Payton Guion and Gordon Rago | The Charlotte Observer, Tyler Dukes | The News & Observer, Cathy Clabby | The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer
In a local investigative reporting project with national implications, journalists from The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer examined the rapid rise of corporate ownership of residential housing in the U.S. and the threat it poses to the American dream of individual home ownership.
Concerned real estate brokers tipped off the reporters and told them that large, Wall Street-backed corporations were upending the local market, pricing out first- and second-time homebuyers and converting single-family homes into rentals at premium rents. The corporations moved fast, the brokers told them, routinely making offers well over sellers’ asking prices, paying in cash and buying homes in bulk. The investigative reporting team went to work identifying the corporations involved and analyzing the extent of the impact they were having.
Through painstaking data analysis, including training a machine learning model to navigate complicated ownership structures, the reporters identified 20 corporate landlords that own more than 40,000 houses in North Carolina, including a quarter of the rental homes in Charlotte. The reporting identified neighborhoods the companies targeted. Reporters interviewed first-time homebuyers without a hope of competing against Wall Street money as well as tenants pinched by landlords who are optimizing profits for themselves and shareholders.
The project has been credited by academics, consumer watchdog groups, anti-corruption advocates, lawmakers and local public officials for providing the most accurate accounting of the scale and scope of corporation ownership of single-family housing in North Carolina or any other U.S. state.