The rent is too damn high

Country/area: Greece

Organisation: AthensLive, Documento

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 29 Jan 2020

Credit: Sotiris Sideris, Olga Souri

Project description:

There isn’t a single neighborhood in Attiki where someone earning the minimum wage for a 40-hour workweek can afford a two-bedroom home at market rent.

As part of AthensLive’s investigation into rent affordability, we looked into rental prices across the region of Attiki, acquired from the national E-Real Estates network, and captured details of more than 17,000 rental properties that were advertised on spitogatos.gr — one of Greece’s leading real estate websites — on a single day. By mapping these against Greece’s minimum wage, we found that 0% are actually affordable.

Impact reached:

The story was published in English on AthensLive and in Greek in the print and online editions of the leading investigative newspaper Documento, reaching an international audience both in Greece and abroad, extending beyond Europe. It also had some of the highest reader engagement. The story has placed the question of the right to adequate and affordable housing at the center of the political debate concerning the financialization of urban space and of our cities.

Readers took to social media to share how they have been affected by the housing crisis in their cities/neighborhoods; housing experts, lawmakers, and activist groups have shared and commented on our findings; academics reached out to say that they have cited the project in their papers and that they have been using it for educational purposes; and other journalists got in touch to ask if we wanted to collaborate on future investigations. In words of Maeve McClenaghan of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK: “This is a great/shocking investigation – shows what a huge issue access to affordable rental properties is in Greece.”

The long-term impact on the organisation, and part of our long-term commitment, was in strengthening our capacity to bring diversity, authenticity, new voices and data journalism into the public sphere in Greece and thereby make an important contribution to the democratic process.

Our freely accessible dataset gives open access to basic information on the characteristics of each unit. All cases can be tracked and counted so that anyone can oversee what is going on in the rental market of Athens while generating new knowledge and empowering affected communities.

Techniques/technologies used:

To calculate rent affordability in Athens and understand the impact of the crisis on housing    , we combined past and present rental prices we acquired from the national E-Real Estates network with our snapshot of all available properties for rent in the greater area of Attiki, advertised on spitogatos.gr – one of Greece’s property search engines – on a single day.

First, using the Beautiful Soup library in Python we looped through all the pages returned by Spitogatos with the available rental properties across Attiki in order to get their URL and dig into their details.

Second, we looped through each URL we acquired from our first scraping in order to get the details of each unit, including the type of the unit (i.e. apartment, detached house, maisonette, studio flat, villa, building, loft, apartment complex, other), the neighbourhood where it’s located, its price and size, year of construction, number of bedrooms, the floor it’s on etc.

After we collected all the relevant information from spitogatos.gr, we converted our lists of results into a dataframe in the Pandas library in order to start the cleaning and then the analysis. We cleaned our dataframe using regex and then we analysed it in Pandas.

Because we pulled down results for each neighborhood and then combined them in one database, we sometimes had the same property listed multiple times. Therefore, it was important to detect and remove any duplicates in the list. To do this, we checked for any duplicate URLs.

We also obtained the shapefiles from the government’s GEODATA.gov.gr to determine which neighborhood is the most expensive and how many two-bedroom apartments are available.

Lastly, we visualized our findings as well as poverty and exclusion data from Eurostat using the plotting library matplotlib and edited our graphs in Adobe Illustrator.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Our goal is to enhance the capacity for journalism that fosters a healthy public debate and democratic participation. We believe that thoroughly documented, data-driven investigations are vital for exposing wrongdoing, enhancing transparency and civic engagement. Our work brings direct attention where there is apathy or ignorance. When the public don’t see, with our stories, we make them an eyewitness to a human rights crisis.

However, there are essential limitations to accessing data in Greece, and most importantly raw real estate data. That’s why we decided to generate our own data, by scraping spitogatos.gr, and share it with other people and organizations.

The combination of global capital, government policies designed to kill off social democracy and failures in housing supply, especially at an affordable level, are reconfiguring Greece’s big cities and sit at the root of a host of social problems, from poverty and homelessness to educational disparities and health care. That means understanding the unreasonable increase in rents in Athens is critical to effectively addressing these problems and reducing inequality. 

One of the biggest challenges was finding the balance between openness of the data and guidance to particular findings or patterns that are interesting to our audience. With datasets like this, it can be tempting to either leave it totally open or guide people through a carefully curated path. We wanted to find a middle-ground where we can our community understand the data, through our story, but then also explore it and build their own, locally-relevant narratives with it, through our open resources.

First and foremost, using data and dataviz helped us better understand – and then tell – the difficult and complex stories of exclusion, household debt, and social segregation in Athenian apartment buildings due to increased poverty and austerity.

What can others learn from this project?

We see housing as a fundamental human right and believe that a stable, affordable home is central to human flourishing and economic mobility. Accordingly, understanding the prevalence, causes, and consequences of housing insecurity is foundational to understanding poverty in Greece.

For the poorest folks, affording adequate housing has long been a challenge. But in Greece, it has become a middle-class problem, too. With many economists arguing that housing costs of less than one third of household income can be considered ‘affordable’, it appears that €637, which is the minimum net wage in the country, can’t pay for a two-bedroom apartment built before 2004 anywhere in Attiki. In fact, there were only 11 one-bedroom units available for up to €212 — which is the 33.3 percent of the lowest net wage — none of them on a higher floor than the ground floor. It is not so much about supply and demand, but rather the fact that the city no longer serves its people, forcing them into intolerable conditions or out of the city altogether.

Through this project, AthensLive has made region-wide rentals data publicly available and accessible. We hope this data is used by policymakers, community organizers, journalists, educators, non-profit organizations, students, and citizens interested in understanding more about housing, the Greek crisis, and poverty in their own backyards. You can map rental prices across the region of Attiki, compare properties of different neighborhoods, and adapt our technical methodology in your own work to generate custom reports about other cities and states around the world.

Overall, we believe the relationship between journalism and civil society can be strengthened and supported by creating a visual grammar to make data more understandable; designing open tools to enable data exploration; and packing know-how into guides in order to spread knowledge.

Project links:


The greek version of the article on Documento’s website: www.documentonews.gr/article/oi-paraloges-ayxhseis-enoikiwn-allazoyn-tis-geitonies-ths-athhnas