Part 3: How residents’ houses become empty or holiday lets
When Liosaich die or move for health reasons, it’s always a time of great sadness for islanders, especially when we see their once bright homes lying empty. From one day to the next, a family home becomes a second home. The non-resident Liosaich who inherit family homes may be loath to surrender them yet, having busy lives elsewhere, they may struggle to maintain or even visit them. Some families who live reasonably near are able to visit often and play a great part in the island. Not all can do this.
In time, some of these non-resident Liosaich-owned homes are sold, but seldom to locals who cannot afford the market price, and few of us are in a position to ignore that. Because the island has no control over whether the new owners are resident, some become holiday rentals. While we always need a certain number of these, the balance between short and long lets is crucial or the population falls, as it is doing now.
Lismore needs not a falling population but a rising one to sustain its ambitious enterprises. Access them all here.
Resident Liosaich with second homes are another category, and different in that the money generated remains on the island, and many are much-needed long lets.
Airbnb have made short lets very easy and, while it is obviously convenient, its lack of regulation has led to problems the government and councils are currently grappling with. Meanwhile the letting balance is skewed in favour of short lets and we are losing vital residents. Again, not just a Lismore problem, but a growing one.
Empty houses are not a great sight for those who are effectively homeless, i.e. remaining on the island in buses, caravans or temporary/seasonal rentals. Neither is it great to clean second homes for holidaymakers, although needs must.
Alas some holiday homes are empty for long periods with the owners making only the odd appearance (for whatever reason) and most are empty all winter, thus the black window description.
Here are two stories:
‘I first came to Lismore as a volunteer and liked it so much I decided to stay in the area. After a stint in Oban I moved to Lismore in 2016. Not finding anywhere to rent, I bought and renovated an 8m² trailer caravan as a ‘temporary’ solution and was able to put it next to a second home without tap water or electricity. I ended up living in the caravan for four extended summers, and moving it around with me almost every year since, onto the croft of friends, and into the garden of a holiday let I’m managing. In the winters I stayed in friends’ houses or went travelling, living in eight different places on the island in the last six years.
‘Last year me and my partner Erick were able to rent the most wonderful cottage in Port Ramsay. (This had previously been owned and occupied by the late lamented Mary MacFadyen and left to the daughter of her cousin and best friend Mary MacCormick (nee Black) married to Jimmie MacCormick at Killandrist. Both also late and lamented.)
‘On moving in I felt as though I had finally come home after a long journey. Exhausted and invigorated at the same time. Having a proper address for the first time since moving to Scotland, a place to invite friends and family to, and a home to come back to in the evening that feels entirely like my own space, has completely brought me back to myself, a much more balanced and content person. It’s incredible how much energy is lost when you cannot feel settled, and how the world has totally opened up again now that I am able to think about other things. It makes me realise how much potential is lost in a generation never being able to feel quite safe where they are.
‘We have been incredibly lucky with our landlords, Linda and John Burgar, who have been extremely conscientious and gone to such trouble to renovate the house for us and make sure we feel at home. I’m sure they hadn’t quite expected how much work was involved in becoming a private landlord, but hopefully still feel it was worthwhile.
‘Personally, I would like to see the situation improved, particularly for single people with more affordable options. Everybody relies on and benefits from people working in different roles on the island, from carers to creatives – homelessness is not ‘other people’s’ problem. Giving people the safety of shelter, autonomy and peace changes the whole community for the better for everyone.’
Amy does eight jobs. She wants to live and work here. She cannot find a home.
Here are her thoughts on our housing problems:
‘Here’s a strange thing; I and others clean Airbnbs. They are a source of income for residents, and the tourists who use them support businesses. However, their recent popularity is a major part of the reason that I and others struggle to find a home.
‘Lismore isn’t just lacking accommodation! It’s lacking shared accommodation! It’s not just that you can’t find a whole house to yourself; you can barely find a room to rent. Lismore desperately needs people to work in care roles/other paid jobs as well as people to help support/run the many organisations and events here. But it’s very difficult for people to move here, even temporarily to see if island life suits. Sharing space isn’t always easy but living communally has many financial, social and practical advantages and if more people were open to considering it, it could be a temporary solution to accommodate on an island that needs them!
‘I have only been able to live and work on the island for the past two years because of Sarah and Yorick and I am very grateful to them for providing me with the opportunity to live here. They opened up their home to me and many others; a fair few of whom are now permanent residents on the island with their own families, businesses and homes.
‘I lived in the wee pod for a year and then the bus for a year which really is a wonderful space; I think I’d struggle to ever find a bedroom with a better view!
‘I don’t need a lot, I’m happy to live communally; to share space! All I need is my own wee room, a shared kitchen to make some meals and do I really need a shower or bath when there is the sea/lochs/burns to soak in?
‘In order to make enough money to live I have to do any number of my eight jobs every day! In many ways, it’s been fun but there is a lot of cycling between jobs, many outfit changes, a ridiculous number of invoices to keep on top of and due to the ‘hour here, hour there’ nature of my work I often don’t have that much money at the end of the month!
‘I cycle the length of the island most days. I cycle past the empty houses, the second homes, the holiday homes, the ruins that could be revived, all the while knowing that each job I do, no matter how fast I cycle in between jobs, no matter how hard I work, is never going to provide me with enough money to ever hope to secure any of those houses even if they were available!
‘I love this island. I love the community. I love the land. I’ve loved all the jobs that I’ve done and the people I’ve got to know while doing them! I’ve been very happy here! If I could have stayed, if I could have at least found somewhere stable, somewhere permanent to live, I think I could have continued with the eight jobs! But the pressure of working those jobs and not having my own residence just isn’t sensible, feasible, or sustainable.
‘So I’m gonna go away for a bit and see if I can find some full-time work and maybe a flat but I wouldn’t be surprised if in time I came back here if it felt possible, right and secure.’
PS: Amy’s window cleaning service will be sorely missed, as will her seven other services.