Tuesday 19 June 2018

Co-living spurs conversion of sacred to the secular

Mount Argus Monastery in Harold’s Cross, Dublin for which Marlet proposes incorporating co-living accommodation units
Mount Argus Monastery in Harold’s Cross, Dublin for which Marlet proposes incorporating co-living accommodation units

Donal Buckley

The development potential and values of some religious properties have received an unexpected boost from the latest trend in the residential letting market - co-living.

Last month, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy introduced design guidelines for co-living units and he encouraged planning authorities to approve this type of shared accommodation in regeneration of old buildings.

"Innovative formats [for shared accommodation] may also be proposed to provide shared accommodation within protected structures in order to ensure their long term rehabilitation and to address sensitive architectural constraints of the subject building," say the latest Government apartment design guidelines.

One of the country's newest residential developers, Marlet Property Group, has welcomed the initiative.

The firm's managing director Patrick Crean says a lot of existing buildings in Dublin are particularly suited to conversion to communal living - former convents, monasteries, hospitals etc. "Often these buildings are protected structures, or buildings of conservation interest. In these buildings, it is important to keep as much of the existing layout as intact as possible. The repurposing of older properties is a real opportunity to capture the potential of this [co-living] concept," he says.

This provision may also help to breathe new life into some Pre '63-type investment properties which were on their way out as a result of the Government ban on bedsits. Co-living could also enhance the viability of the City Living tax relief scheme for refurbishment of old city centre buildings in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny.

The overall new guidelines will allow developers to generate greater efficiencies and save on building costs for both co-living and build-to-rent apartments compared to those which developers could generate from build-to-sell units.

Single tenants in the new co-living projects may rent one-bedroom ensuites measuring as little as 12 sq m which could be only one third the size of most one-bedroom studio apartments. Unlike traditional bedsits, which had their own cooking facilities but shared bathroom facilities, the opposite is the case with shared living.

The new design guidelines highlight the cluster-style units in which co-living tenants have their own bedroom and bathroom, but share living and kitchen facilities with between one and seven other tenants, depending on the configurations of their units.

These units or apartments may accommodate between two and six bedrooms in each one. Such kitchen and living space can range in size from as little as 8 sq m per person in units of less than three bedrooms. For units of between four and six bedrooms, this shared living space has a minimum of 12 sq m per person.

In addition, the Government guidelines also point out, successful shared living developments also provide wider recreation and leisure amenities which generate a shared community environment among residents. These amenity spaces will be required to be in line with similar facilities in build-to-rent developments.

"Flexibility shall be applied in relation to the provision of all storage and amenity space…on the basis of the provision of alternative, compensatory communal support facilities and amenities. The obligation will be on the project proposer to demonstrate the overall quality of the facilities provided and that residents will enjoy an enhanced overall standard of amenity."

While cluster-style, multi-bedroom shared living accommodation may be suitable for students who spend more of their time in college, at libraries and at cafeterias, such clusters are not considered a medium or long-term solution to addressing the need of most employees or even for social housing.

Most salaried people, including those who are willing to rent co-living accommodation, need more privacy than those afforded by clusters.

Indeed, the latest trend in international co-living accommodation is to rent accommodation which is closer in style to studio units.

In a submission to the Minister for Housing prior to the finalisation of the design guidelines, a number of parties urged greater choices other than clusters which are sometimes compared to "student accommodation for adults" closer to designs which include studio units.

In its submission, Marlet said: "Many adults dislike shared accommodation in houses or apartments. They do not want to have to interact with people with whom they have no choice to live with. Collective living allows adults to have control over their own space and whom they choose to interact with."

In response, the guidelines accepts that other formats can be proposed and it is up to the planning authority to decide on their suitability.

Increasingly co-living 'members' as they are known, while enjoying the privacy of a studio also have access to shared spaces in the same complex and community events.

The latest Government guidelines point out that shared accommodation is important for the dynamics in the urban employment market and cites the example of "new employees arriving in urban areas and seeking short-term accommodation during an establishment or local acclimatisation period that may be longer than a few weeks".

However, the guidelines also warn planning authorities against allowing this type of accommodation to replace quality urban apartment development as long-term housing, and it will be up to the developer to show the need for such accommodation. Examples could be a local need for front line workers or shift workers including young nurses, doctors and gardai who need to live near hospitals and garda stations at least on temporary basis.

The guidelines do not restrict the mix of dwellings in shared accommodation developments and allow them to be included in build-to-rent developments.

Because these should be located near central urban areas, it is envisaged that developers will only need to supply minimal car parking spaces thus reducing the need for expensive construction on basement multi level car parks.

Developers of shared accommodation, such as those who develop student accommodation, will also avoid the requirement to reserve 10pc of the units as social housing, known as Part V, which would apply to other housing developments including build-to-rent projects.

Explaining their exclusion from Part V, the guidelines say "shared accommodation would not be suitable for social housing given that they are not provided as individual self-contained residential units".

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