Live like a local? | Opinion

Moss Side in Manchester is not really a tourist destination. I suppose you could visit the site of the old Maine Road ground in Man City, or perhaps Anthony Burgess’ childhood home, but there’s not much to attract visitors. It was therefore surprising to learn from Isaac Rose of the Greater Manchester Tenants’ Union that, on a Moss Side street, five of the last eight house sales were for short-term rentals. Four are already on Airbnb, the fifth is still under renovation.

Isaac, along with other tenants’ federation members and academics from Manchester and Sheffield, co-wrote a report published last month on the impact of Airbnb and other STR (short-term rental) platforms in Manchester. Over the summer I wrote in this column about Airbnb’s impact on tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh and Barcelona, ​​but this report suggests it’s a much broader problem. .

I confess that I have never used Airbnb. I like the anonymity of a hotel, even a cheap one, when travelling. However, within the Urbanism Academy, many people use the platform. It felt like they were staying in someone’s spare room, getting valuable information from a local person over breakfast while participating in the sharing economy.

This is an image that Airbnb is keen to project; allowing travelers to “live like locals” and invest money in the local economy rather than corporate hotels. However, as the report from Manchester points out, the reality is very different.

The “home sharing” market now represents only 8% of the seven million listings on Airbnb. The balance is made up of “whole house listings”, “ghost hotels”, or multiple room listings at individual properties. They’re run by professional owners who often create multiple profiles, so it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on.

Properties are managed by a growing industry of letting agents who handle all bookings and take care of keys, cleaning, repairs etc. They also advise on how to extend the property to increase occupancy, so a Moss Side three-bed house will, on average, sleep up to 8.2 people and are often used for burials. girl and boy life.

Data is hard to come by, but the lobby group Inside Airbnb estimates London has 87,000 listings, followed by Paris with 60,000. Manchester isn’t quite on that scale with around 3,000 (of which 1,409 are whole house rentals), but the trend has tripled since 2016. Projecting these figures, the Tenants’ Union suggests that within 10 years, Airbnb could leave 4,000 Manchester households out. of a house. That’s 30% of the waiting list for social housing.

But the problems don’t end there. STR properties put pressure on local services while not paying business rates. In addition to depriving the city of housing, they undermine stable communities and artificially inflate housing prices, putting them beyond the reach of local populations.

The report tells the story of one of these Moss Side listings being used as a party apartment last New Year’s Eve when the town was under covid tier 4 restrictions. The party spilled over into the street and was eventually shut down by the police, leaving the house ransacked and the street littered with laughing gas canisters, broken furniture and a knife blade.

There are different things that can be done. Elsewhere, governments have legislated licensing systems (including Scotland). Barcelona managed to reduce the number of rentals by 70% by investing in a team of 30 inspectors and another 40 people to scour online sites. Elsewhere, experience has shown that without this level of enforcement, operators will find ways around the rules.

In England all we have is the planning system and the problem is that whole house STRs outside of London are in the same class of use as a family house. Nine councils have nevertheless used planning powers to close them, citing the damage they are causing, and in all cases have been upheld on appeal. In London, any property rented for more than 90 days a year needs planning permission, but it is difficult to enforce and 1,500 breaches are investigated in Westminster alone.

For me, the report was a real revelation. This is a problem that will never be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but it is surely the kind of problem for which planning was invented. New powers for local councils are needed but unfortunately, as the report points out, the government has not yet seen the need for new legislation.

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