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The debate over housing

  • by JW

“At the heart of that debate is how you see housing: Is it home? A human right? Or is it a commodity? Real estate investment?”


The lack of housing in the South-West is pretty dire:

A family has been living in a caravan outside the offices of East Devon District Council, demanding they help with their desperate housing situation.

Homeless Devon family living in caravan at council car park – Devon Live

And the South-West seems to be on pretty much every list of unaffordable places – with the latest out today:

New research compiled for The Sunday Times by reveals eight areas which have actually seen house prices go up by more than £100K in just one year. 

The eight areas where house prices have shot up the most

Torbay is but one example of local people being priced out of the market – both to buy and to rent:

Sky-rocketing house prices and the rise of Airbnb holidays are creating a ‘perfect storm’ housing crisis on the English Riviera.

Landlords are pulling out of the rental market and ending tenancies so they can cash in on the post-Covid boom and sell their properties as house prices rise. Hundreds are also turning their properties into lucrative Airbnb holiday accommodation ahead of the busiest summer season for decades.

Torbay Council leader Steve Darling said he had received emails from hospital workers who were being evicted because their landlords wanted to make the most of the Riviera property goldrush. Also, he said, many properties that would normally become available for rent are being used to make a ‘quick buck’ on Airbnb instead.

House price and Airbnb gold rush sparks housing crisis in Torbay – Devon Live


So, what are the ‘solutions’?

The Futures Forum blog has its own list of possible ways out:

Futures Forum: Search results for A solution to our housing problems

‘Chelsea-on-Sea’ has just tried one:

Plan to ban more second homes in Salcombe – Devon Live

Upmarket Devon town tries to stop it turning into ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’ | Daily Mail Online

Perhaps a look to the Continent might come up with some more.



The German capital has always been a bit ‘radical’ – but its push to bring in a cap to rental prices has just been dismissed by the Federal constitutional court:

The law has been proposed with good intentions, aiming to ease the fiscal strain current renters but, unfortunately, it is becoming clear that should the law be passed, only those who are present occupants may benefit. This notion is summarised by Christine Whitehead [professor of housing economics at the London School of Economics] who explains that the rent control model for London as proposed by Mayor Sadiq Khan may not be appropriate in the Berlin context.

Christine Whitehead’s Commentary on Berlin Rent Cap | LSE London

After a year, Berlin’s experiment with rent control is a failure | The Economist

Berlin rent cap overturned by Germany′s top court | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.04.2021

With that ‘solution’ no longer possible, an even more radical one is being pushed:

You Won’t Allow a Rent Cap? Okay, We’ll Expropriate the Landlords

Berlin May Vote on Expropriating Landlords Amid Tenant Ire – Bloomberg

Activists in Berlin have a radical plan to fight rising rents by seizing apartments.

Prof Whitehead of the LSE comments in a recent piece by Cathrin Schaer writing in the New European that she isn’t so sure expropriating property is the solution to urban housing problems and she certainly doesn’t think the idea will catch on in Britain. “People care a lot about property rights. A lot,” she argues.

To look at the conclusion of the piece:

“A lot of cities are under the same pressure in the same areas,” says Andrej Holm, an urban sociologist studying housing and gentrification at Berlin’s Humboldt University. “They see how international capital is wrecking the renting landscape. So other cities see this kind of thing, they are interested in any new mechanism, and they wonder, ‘maybe we can do this here too?’ I have colleagues in London, New York and Barcelona, among other cities, who are discussing what is happening here.”

There is one thing Christine Whitehead does agree with Holm and the expropriation campaigners on though. “It is useful to have a debate,” she concurs.

According to everyone involved, from sociologists, urban planners and economists to tenancy rights activists, at the heart of that debate is how you see housing: Is it home? A human right? Or is it a commodity? Real estate investment? “Five years ago in Berlin, if somebody had said we are going to take private property away, that would have been a taboo subject,” Holm said. “But now, even the conservative media are discussing it.

They say it’s too complicated, it’s too expensive, it’s not a good solution and what about the investors? But they’re discussing it. And there’s a change in the discourse about how we understand housing,” he concludes. “What was once unimaginable has become imaginable.”

Berlin considers radical bid to seize flats from landlords | The New European



The same article considers “Barcelona’s crackdown on Airbnb landlords”.

Which is very much part of this particular ‘radical’ city’s approach to other urban issues, as covered on these pages – in particular, how to both welcome visitors whilst looking after residents:

Urban Acupuncture – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Looking to a new kind of tourism after the corornavirus – Vision Group for Sidmouth

And that’s what the ‘crackdown on Airbnb landlords’ has been about.

It started some four years ago:

How Barcelona Is Limiting Airbnb Rentals – Bloomberg

Barcelona cracks down on Airbnb rentals with illegal apartment squads | Cities | The Guardian

And earlier this month, the situation was brought into sharp focus:

Student sues Airbnb over night attack in Barcelona | World | The Times

Wellesley woman says she was attacked and seriously injured by three men in an Airbnb rental in Barcelona – The Boston Globe

In fact, in a report out just last week, it’s been suggested that the more Airbnb properties there are, the higher the crime rate:

“It’s not the number of Airbnb tourists who stay in a neighborhood that causes an increase in criminal activities,” said Professor Babak Heydari from Northeastern University. “It’s the creation of transient properties spread throughout a neighbourhood that undermines social organisation and social capital over time, and can cause disorder and criminal activities as a result”.

Airbnb raises violent crime rates in cities as long-term residents are pushed out, says study | Euronews

But the biggest question is to what extent Airbnb is pricing locals out of housing:

Do Airbnbs push up rents and house prices? – MarketWatch

Research: When Airbnb Listings in a City Increase, So Do Rent Prices

Airbnb Increases Home Prices, Yet Escapes Regulation – Bloomberg

And it’s particularly bad in parts of the South-West:

In England, the area with the highest rate of Airbnb lets was Woolacombe, Georgeham and Croyde, in Devon, with 23 listings for every 100 properties.

Revealed: the areas in the UK with one Airbnb for every four homes | Airbnb | The Guardian

It has its positives as well as its negatives:

Steve Woodman, who runs the Londis store and sits on the parish council, said there were positives and negatives of Airnbnb. “It’s good for the businesses that we have people coming here all year and it’s very good for those people who make money out of Airbnb. There are some locals here who rent their homes out for a few weeks in the summer and make enough to pay off that year’s mortgage.”

But houses and flats that might have made homes for locals are being snapped up by investors who can make a profit by renting them out via Airbnb and other sites. “That means there are fewer places for local people to live,” said Woodman. “Property prices are extraordinary.” Houses on the esplanade with the finest views go for £1m or more. A tiny two-bedroom flat goes for around £200,000.

Summer rentals to pay off the mortgage: the village changed by Airbnb | Airbnb | The Guardian