Hardship and grief as Devon families lose homes to Airbnb | Devon

Some of those who were evicted are living in camper vans, caravans, and even on boats. There are families who have been driven from their homes, crammed into holiday park chalets or single rooms, while others have had no choice but to give up and leave the area altogether.

The dramatic increase in short term holiday rentals in Woolacombe and neighboring villages and towns to the north Devon causes hardship, heartache and anger as landlords and investors cash in and local people are pushed out.

“It’s really terrible,” said Emma Hookway, founder of North Devon and Torridge Accommodation Crisis campaign group. “I constantly meet people in tears after being evicted from rented accommodation because the landlords want to turn the place into vacation rentals.”

Hookway, a 43-year-old housekeeper, started the group after she and her young son were forced out of their rented home. They eventually found an apartment above a workers’ club. “It was soul destroying to go back to a small apartment in my 40s. But I had to suck it up and now I realize that actually we are the lucky ones.

Emma Hookway started a housing crisis campaign group after she and her young son were forced out of their rented home. Photography: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

“Tourism here has exploded, especially since Covid. Landlords who used to make £1,000 a month renting to a tenant can do it in a week now and investors are snapping up properties for cash. It’s easy money for them.

Rent by Airbnb in the region is lucrative. Two-bedroom apartments in the modern Oceanpoint and Narracott developments in Woolacombe will cost around £1,200 a week this autumn. A small studio above the Tides Inn costs almost £100 a night.

A modern development in Woolacombe, North Devon.
A modern development in Woolacombe, North Devon. Photography: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

But there is undoubtedly a price to pay for the community.

Another member of the campaign group, Graham Bell, who works at a local hospital, said key workers were being pushed out. “We are losing nurses and teachers who grew up here because they can’t find anywhere to live. They move to Exeter, Bristol or further afield. Families are pushed towards holiday parks, hotels, bed and breakfasts. Children have to pass their exams while living in caravan parks. Education and life chances are affected.

Woolacombe, North Devon, which has the highest rate of Airbnb properties
“It looks like a downward spiral for the area,” says a rescue worker, who was evicted with his partner from a flat in Woolacombe. Photography: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

A rescue worker in his 30s, who asked not to be named, described how he and his partner were evicted from their flat in Woolacombe and were now living in a van on a campsite. “We’re making it work for now, but it’s not ideal. This is not what we want in the long term. It looks like a downward spiral for the region. How are they going to find staff for the hospitals, the fire station, the stores if nothing is done?

A woman with a small child who is forced to leave her Woolacombe home this winter after almost a decade has summed up her feelings as ‘heartbroken, scared and helpless’. Another parent who received notice to leave said she was “really terrified” of becoming homeless.

Dan Stokes, 40, who works as a chef in Woolacombe, is struggling to find stable accommodation. “There are dozens of applications for each rented accommodation.” This means that there is a serious shortage of staff in the hotel industry. “Most companies probably have 60 or 70 percent of the staff they need because they have nowhere to live.”

Dan Stokes, a chef in Woolacombe, says the situation means there is a severe shortage of staff in the hospitality industry
Dan Stokes, a chef in Woolacombe, says the situation means there is a severe shortage of staff in the hospitality industry. Photography: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

Stokes said he knew a hotel worker who lived in a campervan in Woolacombe and a family of three – two parents and an adult son – who shared a room. “Something must be done.”

The atmosphere of the place changes. Locals say they cannot afford the “London prices” charged in many pubs, bars and restaurants and there are frequent complaints about short-term visitor behavior – loud music, excessive drinking, antisocial behavior (often when hot tubs are involved).

According to figures from North Devon Council, 47% of places in the parish of Mortehoe, which includes Woolacombe, are second homes or holiday rentals. The figure for the neighboring village of Georgeham is 45%. In 2020-21, the number of Section 21 eviction notices issued by landlords to tenants in North Devon was 39; in 2021-22 it was 103.

The council’s chief executive, Ken Miles, has been busy drafting a report in response to the UK government’s call for evidence on holiday rentals. The draft report says the council is “particularly concerned about community cohesion in areas where there is a high intensity of short-term holiday lettings”.

Examples cited by Miles include a primary school struggling to maintain sufficient numbers of pupils to remain viable and he points to a road in Georgeham where only one accommodation is occupied in winter. “Communities cannot be sustained with this level of vacation usage,” the draft report says.

He goes on to highlight the case of a university worker from North Devon who has to live 40 miles away and a worker at a local care home who had to give up her job when she was evicted.

The report says that in recent years “the nature of the tourist accommodation supply has changed with the rise of sites like Airbnb”. He suggests considering a licensing regime for vacation rentals and perhaps a requirement to apply for planning permission for change of use when residential premises are converted to vacation rentals to allow more control.

Malcolm Wilkinson, a councillor, says he hopes forming a community land trust can help solve the housing crisis
Malcolm Wilkinson, a councillor, says he hopes forming a community land trust can help solve the housing crisis. Photography: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

Malcolm Wilkinson, senior council member for coastal communities and a resident of Woolacombe for half a century, said there was good news. A community land trust has been set up to build 21 affordable housing units for local people next to the town hall. “We hope that helps a bit,” he said.

Tensions surface. A second home owner, who rents out her home when she and her partner are away, said a guest recently left early because he was not made to feel welcome by locals. “They were told the tourists weren’t wanted,” she said.

The owner, who asked not to be named, said she hadn’t made huge profits and employed a local cleaner and contracted local companies for laundry and cleaning work. construction.

She argued that Woolacombe had long been a tourist destination. “Our customers use local attractions, cafes, restaurants and shops. I don’t know what would happen to the place if there were no visitors.

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