'One of my bar staff is sofa surfing' Furious pub owner ditches airbnb key box in protest at "nightmare" of renting in city

A furious pub owner whose staff can’t afford to rent in the capital is ditching his safe box for Airbnb keys in protest at the lack of affordable housing in the Capital.

By Jolene Campbell
Thursday, 13th January 2022, 4:55 am

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Former Gravediggers pub the Athletic Arms in Gorgie announced on social media they are removing the box to make a stand against the rental giant, as most of the staff have found it ‘increasingly difficult’ to afford to rent amid spiralling costs.

Owner Kevin McGhee who took over the pub in 2006 said that, of around 22 workers across his three bars, one is couch surfing, one is commuting from Penicuik, and another was turfed out of their rented flat because the owners are converting it to an Airbnb.

Kevin McGhee with the key safe box at the Athletic Arms

He added that, since they installed the box four years ago, the housing situation has got ‘worse and worse’ and he’s angry his workers can’t afford the sky-high rent costs in the city –which is home to a third of Airbnb properties in Scotland.

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The 42-year-old said: “We just had a barman quit because he couldn’t afford to rent. One is homeless, sleeping on sofas. The situation is getting worse. My staff spend the majority of their wages on rent. It’s a nightmare for them.

"Airbnb drives up prices and creates a shortage of homes. Within a ten minute walk of the pub there are about 400 Airbnbs and that was a wee while ago. We have a barman who is forced to commute from Penicuik. He had to miss out on shifts at Hogmanay because there were no night buses.”

Mr McGhee, who also owns the Outhouse and is preparing to open a new pub in Marchmont, said he’s now planning to buy a flat to help his desperate workers – and is willing to forgo a profit to do so.

"My staff come first,” he said. “They are upset, frustrated and I see how much it affects their mental health.

"Having somewhere decent to live is essential so I’m going to buy a flat just for my staff to rent on a not for profit basis.”

He added that even his staff who have been able to find places to live have been forced to put up with poor conditions and other problems.

"Many of my regulars live in tenements nearby and they hate them. They create so many problems. Folk are fed up with overflowing bins, crowding and noise,” he said.

"Something has to be done. The council should look at a rent freeze. Airbnbs are out of control. People are priced out of their own city. It’s ridiculous.”

Keysafe, the company that owns the box are due to come to the pub and remove it on Friday – the procedure for which Mr McGhee said they didn’t know because they had never been asked to remove one in the Capital.

Councillor Kate Campbell, housing, homelessness and fair work convener at Edinburgh City Council, said: “Edinburgh is a growing city and one of the most highly pressured housing markets in the country. In Edinburgh, we have only 14% social housing. Across Scotland the average is 23%. That means that almost ten percent of households, which in another local authority would be in social housing, are in the private rented sector. And our private rented sector is the most expensive in Scotland.

“We totally agree that short term lets hollow out communities in Edinburgh, reducing housing supply and increasing housing costs. This is why we have clearly stated our intention to use legislation, which we’ve made the case for in Edinburgh, to properly control short term lets, with the long term aim of bringing them back into use as homes for people living here.

“Housing needs to be more affordable in Edinburgh. So our plan to build 20,000 affordable homes remains a key priority. Through the City Plan we’re proposing a change to planning policy that increases the affordable allocation from 25% to 35% on any new development. And I personally believe that rent controls are desperately needed, and will be closely following the Scottish Government’s consultation on bringing these into legislation”

Keysafe and Airbnb have been approached for comment.

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