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.



The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

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