Housing crisis

Tackling the housing crisis in North Devon

Many readers are familiar with the rapidly rising cost of properties and rents in the South West, which is causing a housing crisis.

This is such an important issue that members of all political parties need to work together to find ways to help. If you own your home, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the misery that can be caused to a family when their home is insecure or taken away.

North Devon Council often deals with the consequences of housing problems. When a person has become homeless or is at risk of becoming homeless, it is the council that tries to help them, either by giving them advice or by helping them find alternative accommodation. It also provides temporary accommodation if needed.

The government’s latest homelessness statistics are interesting, but sobering. In the nine months to December last year, the NDC handled 868 cases of homelessness, 80 of them as a result of a Section 21 notice.

These are so-called “no-fault” evictions, where an eviction can be caused simply by a landlord deciding to evict the tenant. The reason for serving these notices is obviously personal to the owner, but many s21 notices were undoubtedly served, so that the property could either be sold or used as a short term vacation rental.

In our coastal and rural areas, the financial gain from a vacation rental can be much higher than a permanent rental. However, this approach comes at a human cost. It is highly unlikely that evictees will be able to find accommodation elsewhere in North Devon as there is very little accommodation on the market and rents have risen dramatically. There is also a cost to the local community, as too many vacation rentals in an area can change the character of a community and cause antisocial behavior issues.

A check of particular online sites dealing with permanent and holiday rentals revealed that in Ilfracombe there was one permanent rental advert, but over 300 holiday rentals. In Barnstaple, the same exercise showed just three permanent rentals and 112 holiday rentals and it’s a similar picture for most of North Devon.

Over the past two years or so, more than 467 residential properties in North Devon have moved from the permanent market to second homes or holiday rentals. This is the equivalent of losing a large housing estate.

Tourism is an important part of North Devon’s economy along with manufacturing, health, education and public services and unfortunately the impact on the housing market is now being felt in other parts of our economy. Businesses, schools, health services all report difficulties in recruiting staff caused by the lack of affordable housing.

So what can we do? I don’t have all the answers and I certainly don’t want to demonize people who rent out their properties for vacation rentals. What I do know is that the problem requires a coordinated effort from government and local authorities to tackle it properly.

There is a whole range of interventions that could be helpful and I listened with interest to the debate in Parliament led by MP Selaine Saxby when she highlighted many of these interventions. They range from removing current tax benefits for vacation rentals to repurposing upper floors above shops and increasing the supply of affordable housing. What is clear is that the solution is not just to build more houses because many residents cannot afford them.

NDC recently encouraged landlords to contact the council, so they can help them rent their properties on a permanent basis. I repeat that call and urge existing owners and those considering becoming owners to come forward and help. I also urge all owners of short-term vacation rental properties to consider renting their property permanently in order to address the current situation and help make communities more sustainable.