The Guardian’s point of view on second homes: focus on primary residences | Editorial

For for a while last year, it looked like the widening inequalities of all kinds, which has been a hallmark of the pandemic, may not extend to housing. The demand for short-term rentals and vacations on platforms such as Airbnb has collapsed. While this is alarming for homeowners, it looked like more properties might become available for long-term residential use. In London, rents have fallen rapidly. For once, perhaps, the scales could tip from the two million UK landlords to the 13 million people who rent from them.

Since this was not the kind of leveling ministers had in mind, Chancellor Rishi Sunak intervened. A stamp duty holiday was introduced and then extended to drive up prices. A new version of purchasing aid has been launched. Meanwhile, wealthy people saw their savings grow, as opportunities to spend money (restaurants, parties, holidays abroad) shrank: an additional £ 192 billion was set aside l year after the first lockdown.

The predictable result has now arrived, in the form of a real estate boom triggered by a pandemic. Two weeks ago, the chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, described the UK housing market as “on fire”. Prices increase on average by 14.2% per year in rural areas and 7% in cities. In a hotspot, Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire, the average price of houses fell from £ 234,150 to £ 303,780 in 12 months.

The demand for second homes and vacation homes is not the only reason the housing market in such places increasingly looks like a hot air balloon rather than a ladder. Well-off city dwellers are more likely than any other group to have worked from home in the past year. Some now choose to move, either for a change of scenery or for more space. But the demand for vacation homes is a key driver of the price hike, forcing locals to move away from desirable areas such as seaside towns and villages in the southwest so that the wealthier visitors can take their places, in as owners or short-term tenants. In Cornwall last month there were 10,290 active Airbnb listings, but only 62 properties for rent on the Rightmove housing website across the county.

The housing problems faced by tenants and future first-time buyers predate the pandemic. Turning homes into assets, and the majority of households into real estate investors, has been a policy of governments since Margaret Thatcher. But the economic and social upheavals of the past year have brought a new twist, as people venture further afield to spend the money they’ve earned on the most expensive homes in London and the south-east. Being overpriced has long been understood as a generational injustice, as house prices have floated beyond the reach of young adults with no inherited wealth. In the shadow of the pandemic, its geographical aspect has also become more pronounced.

There are economic and environmental reasons to support an expansion of domestic tourism. If little-frequented second homes are rightly considered undesirable, especially in places where they cluster, seasonal variations are part of the lifestyle of holiday towns. But as visitors come and go, locals need homes. Ensuring that the supply of affordable housing is increased and secured in the long term must be the main objective of any housing reform and planning. The alternative increases injustice and division.

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