Hostmaker’s apology isn’t an apology – and short-term lets are an attack on ordinary renters

Still no idea. Image: Generation Rent.

It was Friday at 5pm when we got the message – well, when CityMetric got the message, to be more specific. After Generation Rent’s petition climbed to over 8,000 signatures, short-term lettings company Hostmaker finally apologised and announced that the ads encouraging landlords to turf out long term tenants in favour of holiday lets would be removed from London’s transport network over the weekend.

In its official statement, the company said:

“We are sorry for the concern caused by our recent ad campaign and we acknowledge the tone was misguided. The adverts will be coming down this weekend and we will be reviewing all future creatives with our partners.”

My first instinct was to celebrate – but the rest of the statement quickly turned my celebration to disbelief at how out of touch one company could be. Here’s the rest of the statement...hold on to your hats.

“In a cosmopolitan city like London, there is a need for a range of housing and rental solutions to meet the needs of the wide variety of residents and visitors in our capital city. Whilst it’s critical that there is plenty of affordable housing stock available, our portfolio is made up of premium homes in zone 1&2 postcodes and does not take affordable housing stock away from the market.

“We are here to meet the needs of Londoners and visitors to the capital who would prefer to stay in a high quality, furnished and managed home service. We provide a flexible lettings model to homeowners of these type of properties; blending long-term, mid-term and short-term rentals to suit market demands and help homeowners weather the current slump in rent prices and property sales, ensuring they aren’t left with gaps in the year when their property is standing empty.”

Firstly, let’s take note of the fact that Hostmaker didn’t get in touch with Generation Rent directly to let us know the outcome of our campaign. Instead, it went straight to a journalist. That’s pretty damning proof that this apology is more about damage control than anything else.

Then there’s the send time. At 5pm last Friday, I should have been starting to wrap up for the weekend; instead, I was busy letting the 8000 people who joined our campaign know they’d won.

Hostmaker’s statement is, quite frankly, disgusting. Let’s take it line by line to find out why.

“Whilst it’s critical that there is plenty of affordable housing stock available, our portfolio is made up of premium homes in zone 1&2 postcodes and does not take affordable housing stock away from the market.”

Zones 1&2 are not the preserve of the uber-rich. In zones 1&2 you can find Tower Hamlets, a borough where the average household earns £23,092, spends a whopping 71 per cent of its income on rent, and where 48.6 per cent of children live in poverty. In Kensington & Chelsea, the average income is £34,678 and 95 per cent of earnings go towards rent.

So: Hostmaker’s adverts telling landlords they can make “up to 30 per cent more” by ditching their tenants for short term lets are, ipso facto, encouraging landlords to kick out the poorest renters in zones 1&2.

Hostmaker’s “premium homes” in zones 1 and 2 would be a lot more affordable to Londoners if they didn’t have to pay the 30 per cent mark-up that holiday lets make. Those people now have to find homes in zone 3 or beyond, and can outbid renters already living there with their higher incomes. Those renters are pushed even further out from the centre, adding to the pressure throughout London – all thanks to companies like Hostmaker which take homes out of the long-term residential market.

“We are here to meet the needs of Londoners and visitors to the capital who would prefer to stay in a high quality, furnished and managed home service.”

I’m a Londoner who wants “a high quality, furnished and managed home service”, Hostmaker. In fact there are 2 million renters in London who probably want that too. What of them?

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines here.

“…help homeowners weather the current slump in rent prices and property sales”

Bear with me whilst I get my tiny violin for this one. The average rent per person in London is £660 and, as someone who was once separated from a housemate by a wall so thin I could push it over, I know all too well that many landlords are cramming enough tenants into houses to cover much more than their mortgage.

London’s house prices might have fallen by 2 percent over the past year – but they are still 89 per cent higher than they were a decade ago. If landlords have a business model that cannot handle a slowdown in rents, then they should sell up to someone who can.

But clearly the holiday let market is appealing for landlords precisely because they want to maximise their profits. This is exactly why we ultimately need to do more than take down the ads: we need to tax and regulate the sector properly.

You know what’s the worst part is? The ads are still up. On Sunday evening I walked through Oxford Circus and saw three huge Hostmaker ads still there. On Twitter, we’ve been sent proof of adverts on the Overground this week.

Incidentally, some Londoners now seem to be taking matters into their own hands.

Georgie Laming is a campaigner at Generation Rent, which represents 11 millions renters across the UK.


 

 
 
 
 

Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.

 

Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.

 

The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.


The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.