Andrea Sandor investigates the impact of Airbnb on Manchester, reckoning with her favourite hospitality service.
It’s not easy to write this article. I love Airbnb. It’s how I travel.
Staying in a home, rather than a hotel, means you get to experience a place intimately. When you’re not sightseeing, you can lounge on the sofa and read a book, make a snack, visit the local shop. You’re embedded in a neighbourhood with real people. It’s like you live there.
Except you don’t.
More homes are now available on Airbnb (168) than on Rightmove (151)
And because you and other tourists are sleeping in that home, permanent residents can’t. And then suddenly no real people live in the neighbourhood. It’s a tourist district with a tourist economy.
Such has been the impending fate of global cities like Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam - and why those cities have levied regulations against the short-term letting sector.
And such is the fate some fear for the Northern Quarter.
It was while researching the gentrification of Manchester’s indie centre that the issue of Airbnb kept cropping up.
When I asked Iwan Roberts of Siop Siop about independents being pushed out of the area, he told me I really should be investigating Airbnb. When I attended the Northern Quarter Forum’s AGM organised after the Salboy fallout, residents also raised the issue of Airbnb. In fact, whenever I talk to NQ residents, Airbnb inevitably comes up.
Some residents have turned to Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, for help. She tells me via email:
'Lots of residents come to me with a whole range of problems caused by short term lets – from noise and anti-social behaviour through to a lack of understanding of fire and safety procedures. Some of the worst cases have a number of flats within the same block used for short term lets.'
Now property agents are renting out flats on Airbnb instead of as long-term homes.
One example is Millerbrook Properties, which rents out seven flats on Tib Street. But to their credit, they’re transparent about their business. Their host name is ‘Millerbrook Properties’, and their bio states:
'We manage a portfolio of properties in the Northern Quarter of Manchester City Centre. We have decided to offer this stunning apartment on air b & b as we believe given the market, is a fabulous apartment to rent on a short term basis.'
I came across many other hosts with multiple listings where the host was an individual, but their many properties makes you wonder where an individual stops and a property management company begins.
I couldn’t continue to ignore the issue of Airbnb. But was it really as bad as all that?
I counted up the number of short-term lets on Airbnb vs the number of homes available to rent and buy in the Northern Quarter on Rightmove. When the ratio was around 1:1, I realised there might be a problem. In fact, at the time I searched (December 2018), there were more homes available on Airbnb (168) than on Rightmove (151, with 63 to rent and 78 to buy).
Moreover, half of the hosts had multiple listings, ranging from 2 to 28!
Okay, okay, but I’d looked at just two websites. It was time to get serious.
I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Council to determine the number of short-term lets and the number of homes by ward in Manchester. A report from January 2018 had identified that 6% of housing stock in Westminster was Airbnb - could I determine the proportion for Manchester?
In a word: No.
While the Council can provide data on the number of homes, they can’t on the number of short-term lets because they don’t collect this information. Specifically:
“Unfortunately the Council does not hold data on the number of short term lets in the Private Sector. At the present time, property owners are not always required to inform the local authority when they are renting out their properties.”
While it’s impossible to know what proportion of homes in Manchester are short-term lets, there is some helpful public data out there - thanks, that is, to activists.
InsideAirbnb.com regularly scrapes data from the Airbnb website and publishes it online for free. The data whizzes behind the project came to prominence in 2015 when they discovered Airbnb had removed commercial listings from their public data. Today, the aim of the site is to “[provide] filters and key metrics so you can see how Airbnb is being used to compete with the residential housing market.”
So what does the data say about Manchester?
There are 400 listings in the City Centre, which is comprised of the Piccadilly and Deansgate wards. Unsurprisingly, the largest concentrations are in the Northern Quarter and around Oxford Rd.
71% are entire homes/flats, and 54% are classed as “highly available”, meaning they’re rented year-round to tourists and, according to Inside Airbnb, “probably don’t have the owner present, could be illegal, and more importantly, are displacing residents.”
On average, each listing is rented out 116 nights a year and brings in £774 a month - although some flats in the Northern Quarter go for £1.5k a night! 56% of hosts have multiple listings.
When we look more broadly at Greater Manchester, the figures are still striking. There are 3,484 Airbnb listings, 47% of which are entire homes/flats, rented out for on average 105 nights a year, garnering £535 a month. 68% are highly available listings, and 51% have multiple listings.
In a nutshell: there’s a chunky number of people renting entire homes on Airbnb in Manchester - homes that aren’t available to permanent residents - and at least half of hosts are making a business out of it with multiple listings.
In Part 2, Andrea will explore why this is a problem for Manchester and what’s being done about it.
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