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Opinion: Melissa Todd calls for boycott of Airbnb as she argues holiday lets in Ramsgate are pushing local people out

As her friend’s long-term seaside home is turned into an Airbnb, Broadstairs writer Melissa Todd explores the impact of holiday lets on local communities.

My pal John, who’s 75, was given two months' notice to leave his spacious, light-filled flat last week.

There is a disproportionate number of Airbnbs available to rent compared to homes in Ramsgate
There is a disproportionate number of Airbnbs available to rent compared to homes in Ramsgate

For the past three years, John has paid £750 a month to live in central Ramsgate. His home will now be repurposed as an Airbnb, so that beach-seeking tourists can pay £110 a night to enjoy its Victorian features and central location.

There aren’t many two-bedroom flats for rent in Ramsgate, and none John can now afford. There are, however, an extraordinary number of Airbnbs, quirky, authentic and charming. In Ramsgate, there are 866 homes available on the Airbnb website, compared to the 21 flats available for long-term lets on Rightmove. There is a housing shortage all over the UK, but tourist hotspots, particularly seaside towns, seem to be faring worst.

This is a problem for John, but also a problem for Ramsgate. For a well-situated property to become a splendid investment opportunity, it must cease to be a home.

Airbnb have such a cheerful, innocent image. Instead of handing over your credit card to some faceless, corporate hotel, why not kip in a local’s spare room? Experience a new town with a new mate on hand to give you insider tips, show you real life, rather than air-conditioned vapidity?

In 2009 Airbnb was born from the backside of a desperate global recession, which saw some people desperate to make money from their homes, and others keen to embrace the notion that the internet had rendered us a ‘global village’. We were all searching for hotel deals online. Why not funky spaces in funky neighbourhoods?

Sadly, those days are, by and large, behind us. Airbnb is as corporate as any international hotel chain. The biggest of them, too, offering more than a million homes across the globe.

The influx of Airbnbs has fundamentally altered many towns' economic topography, creating a landscape where areas of deprivation and affluence sit side by side, yet exist worlds apart. Their effect is to some extent similar to gentrification, in that it slowly increases the value of an area to the detriment of the indigenous residents, many of whom are pushed out in consequence.

A report from the London-based economic research consultancy Capital Economies analysed the scale of the UK’s short-term lets sector and the wider implications for the private rented sector. Around 10% of UK landlords surveyed responded that they are considering moving their privately rented properties to the short-term market. You can no longer claim tax relief on mortgage interest payments, so it’s become less profitable to become a landlord.

Should those 10% of landlords move over to holiday lets, up to an estimated 470,000 properties would be removed from the private rented housing supply – around 8.7% of the entire U.K. rented sector stock. And that would significantly stretch the already strained housing supply.

This society we’ve created, where the free market dictates everything and the state exists solely to mop up the mess, isn’t sustainable long-term. Providing safe and affordable housing for all makes economic sense, because the health and education problems caused by families not having homes they can rely upon are not only life-destroying, they’re expensive.

Airbnb is pushing local people out of communities, says Melissa Todd. Stock image
Airbnb is pushing local people out of communities, says Melissa Todd. Stock image

An unbalanced housing market creates residential instability, forcing people to move more often, thereby restricting the human ability to form and nurture the social bonds so vital for individual well-being and community cohesion. When these are disrupted, the coping strategies employed, such as addictive behaviours, tend to have a deleterious effect on both individuals and communities. Deprived communities are not inherently ugly or dangerous. These problems arise from the damage done to them. Damage inflicted by the free market.

By putting a home on the site or booking somewhere to stay yourself, you are contributing to a system that works to make the rich richer at the cost of local communities, who are increasingly becoming alienated and disenfranchised. Sometimes we need rules. Sometimes unfettered capitalism cannot be allowed to rampage.

People need homes to thrive, feel safe, stale, secure, make connections, build families, find steady work, allow their children to settle in schools, where they might gain friends and qualifications. Airbnb and their ilk undermine all these possibilities. The money they make from our communities goes straight to California, while the problems they cause take money to fix - not least a huge housing benefit bill - which comes from British pockets.

We must utilise our power as consumers, since government has no interest in representing us as citizens, nor guarding our fundamental human right to homes. Homes, not gold mines. Homes, which create stability and security, the lack of which will otherwise be felt ricocheting down the generations.

Bring social pressure to bear on those who choose to utilise Airbnbs in towns and cities. Our choices have consequences, our spending has power, and we need to utilise it responsibly, because the free market has no conscience, nor power of forethought.

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