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.

 
 
 
 

Canada’s gay neighbourhoods are struggling. Can queer pop-ups plug the gap?

Vancouver. Image: Getty.

Queer life was highly visible in Western Canada last year. In May, Vancouver declared 2018 the “Year of the Queer,” celebrating decades of service that the city’s cultural organisations have provided for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ/2S) people across the region.

Yet 2018 also saw the loss of multiple queer venues and gay bars. While economic forces, such as rapacious gentrification are part of the story and struggle, our research shows that something creative and generative is happening in the city as well.

In the face of changing urban landscapes, economic hardships, and more straights moving into historically gay neighbourhoods, queer pop-ups — ephemeral gathering spaces whose impact lingers among revellers long after the night is over — now play a large role in the fight for LGBTQ/2S equality.

Scattered gay places became neighbourhoods

Queer life germinated in “scattered gay places” across cities in North America from the late 1800s to the Second World War. Inside cabarets, bars, theatres or outside in public parks, washrooms and city streets, queers found spaces which could hold and celebrate transgressive sexual connections while also providing respite from daily experiences of discrimination and social exclusion.

After the Second World War, scattered gay places congealed into permanent gay bars and residential “gaybourhoods” in a period anthropologist Kath Weston calls “the great gay migration.” Queer people flocked to urban centres and sexual subcultures flourished in cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto.

The formation of queer community spaces has always been controversial. Cultural and legal backlashes marred early developments. A host of laws and regulations tried to suppress and contain homosexuality in North America by limiting its presence in the public sphere.

These measures resulted in frequent hostilities, police raids and violence. Queers congregated together not just to find love or community, but to protect themselves, to protect one another and to find refuge. Pride parades, now celebrated worldwide, commemorate these early turf wars.

Pop-ups revitalise queer spaces

Researchers have written a great deal on the cultural and political importance of gay districts in urban centres, and they have grappled with concerns that these areas, along with the establishments they house, are fading.

But innovative urban forms challenge arguments about the death and demise of queer spaces in the city. Our research suggests that queer pop-ups, or temporary cultural gathering spaces, cater to diverse and often marginalised queers.

Some gaybourhoods are dwindling in their residential concentration and gay bars are dropping like flies. But new queer place-making efforts are emerging.

Two of the authors at the queer pop-up in 2018 at East Side Studios in Vancouver. Ryan is on the far left, back row, Adriana is on the far right of the back row. Image: author provided.

Unlike gaybourhoods and gay bars, pop-ups are intentional in how they address persistent, intersectional forms of inequality. Queer pop-ups offer patrons a space to explore non-binary forms of gender and sexual identities, and especially a place to experience collective effervescence among queer people of colour, and femme lesbians.

Some pop-ups create environments that are explicitly trans-inclusive, consent-focused, and sex-positive. Pop-ups are not panaceas for queer life. Pop-ups can also be places where issues around socioeconomic status, gender identity and expression, and racial inequality are called out.

Yet these spaces directly and indirectly encourage dialogue on inequalities within the queer community, conversations that help produce safer spaces for marginalised queers to find each other and forge enduring queer consciousnesses.

Turf wars

Queer pop-ups show similar trajectories of infighting and compromise that the LGBT social movement encountered from the late 1970s through the early 2000s when trying to forge a collective consciousness, gain social visibility and win legal rights.

These turf wars, expressed as contests over space and inclusion, are generally sparked over three perennial concerns: privilege, race and gender. One interviewee, a 20-year-old self-identified queer, trans person of colour (QTPoC), who spoke about Vancouver’s gay district told us:

“I tend to avoid the gay bars on Davie [because] a lot of the gay bars there have now been taken over by cis-gender, heterosexual people. I’ve [also] heard from a lot of QTPoC friends that they are often uncomfortable going to gay bars on Davie, because it’s usually very dominated by cis-gender, white gay men.”

A 28-year-old white, cisgender, queer male found pop-ups more politically and culturally radical than gay bars. He put it this way:

“It’s very rare that we’ll ever have a conversation about politics [in gay bars]. It’s just about partying and things that we kind of see as very stereotypical portrayals of gay culture: like going out, dancing, drinking, fucking.”

Historically, gaybourhoods have served an important role in the fight for LGBT rights, but they have also developed to cater to a specific cis-gender, white, middle-class, male sensibility. One 30-year-old, white, trans DJ put it bluntly, “the mainstream scene is just not welcoming to trans people, in my experience,” adding that verbal transphobic harassment is common in the streets of Vancouver’s gaybourhood.

At Vancouver Pride this year we were reminded of this schism at a local pop-up event. “Gay men won’t come here, it’s too trashy,” shouted a white Australian lesbian playfully to friends over loud music. We were at Eastside Studios, a large warehouse turned into the newest collaborative queer venue in Vancouver.


The comment was striking because it highlights the visible bifurcation occurring in queer life and queer consumption in Vancouver. Many gay men tend to patronise businesses and events in the West End, Vancouver’s official gaybourhood; whereas, other members of the LGBTQ community are scattered across the city at events and venues that are far less permanent. Eastside Studios attempts to break through the homonormative bent some gay bars perpetuate. It is a space that generously houses some of the struggling pop up events who lost space to gentrification in Vancouver’s out of control rental market.

Historically, pop-ups arose as the first signs of urban sexual transgression. They continue to emerge as spatial innovations which nurture transgressive queer diversities that do not have space or representation in the gaybourhood. Weekly social media blasts via Facebook or Instagram and word-of-mouth dissemination play an important role in linking queers around the city to these events. Pop-ups take different tones and establish different vibes among patrons. Collectively, pop-ups highlight the many important projects local queers are undertaking to increase the plurality of what queer life looks like and how it is expressed.

Struggles for equality

Marriage is the leading story in many headlines these days, but queer struggles for equality were never only about relationship recognition or acceptance into the mainstream.

Queer struggles are also fights to resist oppressive normativity, to end racial inequality and white supremacy, to end sexualised violence, to reconcile generational traumas associated with colonialism.

Continuing these fights is perhaps what makes queer pop-ups unique. Organisers of these events are intentional and responsive to such concerns. They seek to create new worlds that soften the impact of inequalities, both in gaybourhoods and in other parts of Canadian cities as well.

Pop-ups nourish queer lives; they emerge as temporary meeting grounds where diverse, oftentimes marginalised, queers flock for community and collective, momentary release. Here an image from a Man Up pop-up event in Vancouver. Image: Shot by Steph/Facebook/The Conversation.

Many of these spaces are an opportunity for patrons to travel in a re-imagined world, even if only for the night. While not all pop-ups that appear survive, the ones that do matter, fundamentally, because they create spaces that resist heteronormative culture and homonormativity, address intersecting inequalities, assert and anchor queer cultural and political identities, and promote well-being for a wider portion of the community in ways that gaybourhoods used to and have always had the potential to.

Pop-ups nourish queer lives in ways that gaybourhoods and gay bars historically had. They emerge as temporary meeting grounds where diverse, oftentimes marginalised, queers flock for community and collective, momentary release. They allow patrons to dance and comfortably explore the implications of their gender and sexual identities around like-minded individuals. At times they are more than friendly social gatherings, becoming sites where the moral arch of the community is shaped through demonstrations on urgent issues impacting queer lives and the surrounding community.

Queer pop-ups are vibrant locations that work to push forward the unfinished projects of social justice first envisioned during gay liberation.

The Conversation

Ryan Stillwagon, Ph.D. Student, Sociology, University of British Columbia; Adriana Brodyn, Ph.D. Candidate, University of British Columbia; Amin Ghaziani, Associate Professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair in Sexuality and Urban Studies, University of British Columbia, and D. Kyle Sutherland, PhD Student, Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.