When a house is not a home

De Facto

HIGH IMPACT Residential homes are now being bought up in places like Westport and let out on Airbnb, with dire consequences on local social fabric.

Is Airbnb a threat to the social fabric of Westport?

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

A couple of testosterone- and alcohol-fuelled aspiring Michael Flatleys dancing on a car roof made the headlines last week. It might seem a small price to pay for the gradual reopening of a lockdown society in Westport. In truth, it is not even the tip of the iceberg.
Incidents like this are small fry compared with what is happening in the underbelly of Westport society.
The social fabric of society is changing and being changed very quickly in our town thanks to the phenomenon known as Airbnb. It is part of the developing world ‘smart economy’ – a B&B without rooms, a crypto-currency without notes, an auction house without goods, a delivery company without products – and the list goes on.
Airbnb is totally legal and works best when a family decides to share a room or two to earn extra income. The difficulty arises because the ‘market’ is not regulated. This has enabled, legally, people to move in to towns without living there!
Residential homes are now being bought up in places like Westport and let out on Airbnb. This is having dire consequences on the local social fabric, some of which will take time to manifest.
Firstly, in the short-term, letting entire houses on Airbnb enables the reoccurrence of horrible stag and hen parties that so blighted the town for years. It is so easy now for these to be organised again in Westport. With foreign travel restrictions still in place we better prepare ourselves for a summer glut of visitors we might prefer to see head off somewhere else.
Even if they are not stag or hen parties we are going to get a fair share of high-energy, post-exam, ‘Ah, sure we’re only having the craic’ visitors. Financially, it might be a boost to some of the town’s businesses, but socially it will be a nightmare. Loud, raucous and generally uncouth (with some exceptions), we can do without such plastic-cup pint-swirling behaviour.
Secondly, with so many homes being bought up and used as Airbnb properties it changes the social fabric of the town. The main Airbnb effect is that local communities are broken down. For people who live in town the closeness of neighbours is a major plus. When that collapses the quality of life is affected. It affects the town community. All of a sudden the number of residents is reduced. They are not replaced. This alters the social fabric of the town in a most serious way.
Thirdly, it affects both the current and future generations. House prices are so high they are prohibitive for young Westport people to buy in the area. They are moving to surrounding towns. The knock-on effect is that future generations will not be born in the town. Children will not be Covies but sons and daughters of parents ‘who came from Westport’. The town will then become a playground for the rich with quaint shops and streets peopled by visitors.
It is disturbing to think that people with money can buy so many homes in residential areas and let them out on Airbnb. Have we learned nothing from our Seaside Holiday Resort tax-incentive schemes of the 1990s?
Back then, investors received tax relief if they bought in certain areas. Today, Airbnb has no such restrictions. It can happen anywhere and everywhere. It also has destroyed the traditional B&B businesses. It would be an interesting study in Westport to see how many properties are now available for Airbnb.
County Councils have authority to impose residency clauses with planning permissions. Should this be extended to all house sales? Just like we introduced tax-incentive areas, should certain areas in towns like Westport also be declared residential areas? If you bought a home you would live there, no renting. It’s not rocket science! It works in other countries where residency clauses protect local people and maintain the social structure of the society.
Westport can become an Airbnb mecca with its attendant effects on the town’s social fabric, or we can insist local people are protected. Welcome to Westport – at present jiving at the crossroads.