While Airbnb is not bad in itself, the sheer number in Edinburgh is distorting the housing market, writes Ewan Aitken.
Last week my wife and I had a wee day at the Fringe; not planning much – just heading into town and taking in shows which caught our fancy there and then. That, of course, was after seeing our daughter do her thing in Captivate Theatre’s performance of 13 at the Rose Theatre – brilliant, but we are admittedly a bit biased!
We also went to see the one-man play Naughty Boy at the Gilded Balloon Patter House in Chambers street with Eddy Brimson; an excellent if challenging exploration of the connection between belonging, identity, truth, gangs and violence amongst many young men. It’s a story which would resonate with many who might not often see their story told on stage. It asked hard questions about the business of blame for behaviours which are rooted in upbringing and broken relationships. Where do we draw the line between excuses and accountability? All for £6. Well worth going to see.
Other performers challenge the role of the traditional ‘passive’ audience, and explore how theatre can be a real instrument for social and political change. Cardboard Citizens, who are playing at Summerhall, not only tell the stories of people who are homeless – it asks those who attend to pledge to take action, and in particular support charities like Cyrenians and others who work to end homelessness.
Our festivals bring a great deal to our life as a city and a community. But there are downsides – not least of which is the impact these few weeks have on house prices and rents all year round.
Festivals didn’t invent Airbnb, nor is Airbnb inherently bad. But when a city has such an influx of visitors over short space of time, many of whom are willing to pay silly prices for accommodation, it creates a market which is potentially dangerous and has ramifications which impact long after the festivals are over.
There are more than 12,000 Airbnb lets in Edinburgh; a city which has 3,000 people in temporary accommodation and many more in insecure housing. This cannot be the right balance for our city. We need to regulate this market. The short-term lets, for which the festivals create a demand, drive up rents and deplete existing housing supply – especially in Edinburgh, where demand already exceeds supply. There are indeed benefits to individuals and to the economy, but it comes at a price of placing further strain on people from low and middle-income backgrounds, and disproportionately people from marginalised groups.
If we create a city where access to secure housing becomes more and more difficult, we create not just a housing crisis but we limit the chances of people being able to lead a valued and fulfilling life. We make a statement about the kind of society we want with the ways we provide (and limit) access to life’s necessities, including secure affordable housing. When we leave such things to the market alone, it is rarely good news for those in most need.
The Scottish Government recently held a consultation over regulations for Airbnb specifically and short-term lets generally. To me it’s a no-brainer. Any economic benefit needs to be tempered by the need to not impact negatively on those for whose capacity to be part of the economy is already limited.
It’s great to be proud to live in a city with such a commitment to creativity and to host people from the world over to celebrate and enjoy great performances. But if the price is many people who live here all year round being unable to access the housing they need to be the citizens they want to be, then something needs to be done – and if that’s regulation of a market, then let’s do it. To ignore the problem is to ignore our neighbour and the stranger – to walk on by on the other side, and that’s nothing to be proud of.
Ewan Aitken is the CEO of Cyrenians Scotland.