Does Hastings’ growing airbnb industry need regulating? By Katharine Wallinger

Aaahh Hastings – it’s pretty safe to say we’ve arrived. The Sunday supplements and lifestyle magazines have smoothed the rough edges (“5 years ago you couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee”) and we can now consider ourselves to be in the midst of something of a renaissance, firmly established as a hip destination for a weekend away. We’re the small town that punches well above its weight in terms of character and creativity where you can either soak up the grounding peace of the sea or lose a night or two to the endless year-round festivities and, as a result, people want to visit more than ever before. This is obviously great for the town, it is a resort after all, but where do these people stay? As times change, so do the ways we go about things, and booking an apartment as accommodation for a short break has become the norm, inevitably it seems with the rapid rise of websites such as Airbnb which allow residents to rent out their property to tourists.

What a great idea – people can earn extra cash renting out a spare room, or their entire home if they are away, they can host and meet new people and share their neighbourhood and community and all it has to offer. But Airbnb seems to have morphed from the original ‘room letting’ concept into something entirely different, with some hosts running multiple property portfolios as full time holiday accommodation. It’s not hard to see why the site has attracted controversy in cities such as Berlin and Paris, where legislation has been put in place to prevent neighbourhoods becoming ‘Airbnb’ ghost towns where long-term residents find themselves pushed out in favour of the more lucrative tourism market.

Search Hastings on Airbnb and you will initially see ‘300+’ listings over 17 pages. The accommodation on offer is a mixed bag of houses, flats and rooms within the Hastings and St Leonards area with an average price of £91 per night. Looking into these listings recently I counted 67 ‘entire’ houses/flats/studios on  the first five pages alone. A number of these are clearly family homes that are let to visitors to provide extra income when the residents are away either on holiday or business but many are quite obviously full time holiday lets that have effectively been removed from the long-term residential market completely. 

It’s hard to define exactly how many properties are now out of reach for residents looking to rent a home in the town but conversations with my own circle of friends over the past couple of years have painted a worrying picture of what is happening.  

From the friend who has seen the number of  full time residential neighbours in her seafront block halve because flats have been bought up and changed into holiday lets, to the colleague who was left homeless after his flat was added to an Airbnb portfolio, the effects of this boom and the damage it is causing to the community are becoming quite clear. Worrying about whether or not your rented home is going to be turned into the street’s next holiday let has become a legitimate worry for many people.

Of course, people can do what they like with their properties but there is a fine line between regeneration and gentrification. Hastings and St Leonards is so on-the-up it’s a surprise it hasn’t taken off and shot into orbit completely but that doesn’t change the fact that it is still one of the most deprived areas in the country – a country which, according to homeless charity Shelter, is ‘in the grip of a housing crisis’ and in which many people will never be able to get on to the property ladder. Turning vast swathes of accommodation into leisure facilities for those lucky enough to be able to afford it does not change the fact that we have more people sleeping on the streets than ever before and that finding a home to rent is fast becoming as unlikely for many as finding a home to buy. If property investors can’t make the right decision about value of the fabric of a community over profit, perhaps it’s time legislation was put in place to do that for them. 

Kevin Boorman, marketing and major projects manager at HBC said the council supported the suggestion that, “Airbnb properties be regulated in the way that more traditional visitor accommodation is. Airbnb undoubtedly brings real benefits to the town, and to those who have spare space in their home. However, there are concerns that the unregulated nature of Airbnb can cause problems too, both in terms of the quality and safety of the accommodation, and to neighbours of Airbnb properties in terms of noise, parking and
so on.”

If you are affected by the issues raised in this article, please contact: [email protected]

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