Regional English cities are suffering from the rise of short-term rental services like Airbnb

The Northern Quarter, Manchester, 2014. Image: Getty.

The short-term rental market has ballooned in recent years. According to the Residential Landlords Association, Airbnb listings in ten UK cities increased by almost 200 per cent between 2015 and 2017. And while attention has mainly focused on the problems this is causing in big cities such as London, or tourist hotspots such as Barcelona and Berlin, communities in England’s regional cities are also feeling the effects.

The growth of short-term rentals is closely tied to the broader financialisation of housing – that is, changes in the housing and financial markets, which turn housing into a commodity. These changes have opened the door for new investors to buy and develop more and more units, which in turn increases the scarcity of housing, prompts landlords to raise rent, threatens community bonds and stretches neighbourhood services.

The short-term rental sector is made up of two different business models. Serviced apartments are typically run by a single business, which offer a hotel experience for visitors in many city centres. Landlords can also rent out rooms or entire properties through sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb. By providing this service, Airbnb has given people a new means to earn money on their homes – sometimes without having to follow all the laws that apply to renting.

Growing trends

In 2016, the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers found that 86 per cent of serviced apartment units in Manchester were occupied throughout the year. Alongside other regional cities such as Liverpool and Bristol, Manchester is a key target for serviced apartment operators.

To find out exactly how short-term rentals are affecting regional cities such as Manchester, I undertook research to collect data on 22 serviced apartment schemes, containing 1,198 units across central Manchester and neighbouring Salford during 2017. The average starting price for a night in a serviced apartment was £99, and owners made an average monthly income of £2,563 per unit. The financial rewards of investing in serviced apartments clearly outweigh the returns on long-term rentals for residents, which yield around £850 per month.

Getting trendy: street art and cycles in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Image: Kylaborg/Flickr/creative commons.

To find out about Airbnb, I used a 2016 survey by sector analysts AirDNA, which showed a total of 310 units advertised on Airbnb within central Manchester, and more than 1,500 across the city region. They noted a 70 per cent annual growth in the sector from the previous year. The average price per night for an entire property is £143, with the highest being £1,251.


Across the city, my research identified 357 properties, which had been taken out of the long-term rental market up to 2016, with many more expected over coming years. Indeed, real estate company Colliers recently reported that in 2017 there were more than 4,000 units being used for short-term rentals, in a city struggling to build affordable housing.

The 2016 data from AirDNA revealed 177 hosts operating Airbnb properties in central Manchester: 59 owned multiple properties and accounted for 62 per cent of all listed units. It is likely that many of these hosts are people who own multiple properties, or who set up small enterprise to use housing in central Manchester as a business.

And there are concerns that those properties taken out of the long-term rental market may not be operating with any licensing or planning permissions. A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tourism, Leisure and the Hospitality Industry – a group of MPs from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, who meet to discuss issues in the industry – raised concerns that sharing economy platforms do not check if hosts comply with gas and fire safety regulations before they let out their properties.

Neighbourhoods on the frontline

Serviced apartments, concentrated in the Northern Quarter. Image: Jonathan Silver/author provided.

Short-term rentals are clustering at certain locations across Manchester, especially the popular Northern Quarter, which has more than 150 Airbnb units alongside over 500 serviced apartments. This rapid growth is putting strain on local services, small businesses and potentially residents, and there’s a real risk that the people who made the neighbourhood a popular destination for visitors will be pushed out, as the area becomes a magnet for “party lets”, with antisocial behaviour and littering.

With more than 650 potential homes in a relatively small neighbourhood used for the short-term rental market, it’s hardly surprising that the character of the neighbourhood is rapidly changing, while fears grow that it is losing its soul.

Some cities have already weathered the first wave of negative impacts from short-term rentals – and are beginning to fight back. New laws have been put in place, to limit long-term damage to communities. In Paris and London, authorities introduced a cap for short-term rentals to 90 days per year. This helped to ensure that housing built for residents is not taken out of long-term rental markets and used solely as a business asset by owners.

Balconies in Barcelona. Image: mrci_/Flickr/creative commons.

Barcelona has introduced a range of measures, including fines for companies that advertise unlicensed units. Across the world, relatively small “tourist taxes” of £1 per night now include serviced apartments. Proceeds are invested back into cities, to support local services and address the disruptive impacts on neighbourhood life.

So far, English regional cities have been pretty slow to act. Manchester City Council does not yet have a policy to address the sector. Liverpool City Council has been more proactive, pushing for national regulations to force landlords to register short-term rental properties. It has also lobbied central government for the ability to limit rentals to 90 days – a planning tool currently only available in London.

Unless coordinated action is taken at local and national levels, the short-term rental market will make the housing crisis, which is gaining pace in England’s regional cities, even worse. Local communities and politicians need to come together quickly, and learn from cities that have already developed effective policies – before some neighbourhoods change irrevocably.

The Conversation

Jonathan Silver, Leverhulme ECR Fellow, University of Sheffield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.