Not coming home for Christmas: Cornwall’s housing crisis

Protestors in Truro | Jory Mundy

The public, politicians, and activists gathered in Lemon Quay in Truro on Saturday to draw attention to the ongoing Cornish housing crisis and a lack of action by the government and Cornwall Council.

The action group First NOT Second Homes (FNSH) has been visiting and campaigning in various locations across Cornwall. They have focused their attention on areas which have been particularly affected by a shortage in housing and second home ownership. Their last action was in Porthleven, a small coastal town said to have 141 listed properties on Airbnb but no rental properties for locals. Saturday’s action returned to Truro as the group aims to raise awareness to the Christmas shoppers with a short procession and speeches.

Representatives from the ACON and UCU unions, Kernow Matters To Us, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, Liberal Democrats, Mebyon Kernow, and the Cornwall Trades Council demonstrated.

The “staycation” boom during the pandemic has been particularly impactful on housing in Devon and Cornwall. Landlords who own property have taken advantage of the demand for short-term, affordable accommodation by placing their homes or second homes on Airbnb and other such websites. The profitability of this business has escalated an already volatile housing situation. Property owners are hesitant to offer long-term rental agreements to tenants as short-term tourism revenues are often much more lucrative and do not require the same level of management and are not subject to the same regulation. Properties are often left vacant outside of the holiday season, sitting empty while demand for affordable housing rises.

Andrew George Lib Dem | Jory Mundy

A statement was recently presented by the Trade and Tenants Union Community in Cornwall, calling on Cornwall Council and Westminster to deliver “immediate substantive action to end the housing crisis or face a potential humanitarian disaster” as “current methods of using cabins or putting families in temporary accommodation is not enough” and “a dramatic regulation to the private sector” is needed.

Liberal Democrat councillor and former MP Andrew George called the £170 million that second homeowners received through government COVID-19 business grants as an injustice. “Second homeowners who weren’t required to pay council or business rates tax” received millions, he said. This came despite the government being warned that including second-home owners in the relief programme could exacerbate the problem.

Ann, a representative from Falmouth University and the UCU, stated that the housing crisis in Cornwall has made it “hard for some university staff to find places to live within travelling distances of work”, with others being forced to commute from outside of Cornwall.

Ann claimed students, especially those who were already based in Cornwall, have been hit especially hard by the housing crisis, with some unable to afford rooms in Falmouth or Penryn and forced to commute from out of town. At the start of the term, “dozens” of students couldn’t find a rental property and had to live in tents or caravans as former student houses had been quickly converted into holiday lets.

Jory Mundy

Cornwall Council has repeatedly pressured Westminster into making reforms to alert local authorities when a property becomes a second home. Charging double council tax for second home owners is being considered. Deputy Council Leader David Harris stated that an increase would “raise significant revenue” for the council’s already cut budget.

The next and final FNSH action of the year will take place in St Agnes on 29 December.