Mark Keenan: One-bed flats will be snapped up as cramped family homes
Back in the 1980s the State introduced Section 23 apartment development incentives to solve the dual problem of dereliction and a lack of housing for students and singles. As an emergency measure it worked.
Blocks of studios, one and two-bed flats immediately shot up. But aside from later inflating the property market through its unnecessary retention, the fallout of Section 23 has been largely social. Those same apartments are now filled with families struggling with monthly rents of €1,700.
Now there are new apartment building guidelines from Department of Housing, changing content and parking restrictions which will permit more studio and one-bed units. It represents a similarly potent solution - but also with a possibility of a dangerous double edge.
As an emergency measure, the new guidelines will help provide a large amount of housing in a short amount of time - which is urgently needed.
Blocks will become economically plausible to build. Once height limits are clarified, developers who have hitherto stayed off-site will get down to building new blocks in numbers.
The new guidelines specifically mention the Build to Rent model, which will see Irish REITS, pension funds and foreign investment funds to invest large in apartment blocks. The fact Build to Rent is namechecked also tells us implicitly that Government is now actively ushering us into the realm of the "super landlord" as a solution to the crisis - with private funds from home and abroad lining up.
Homes of all shapes and sizes are required and while households have indeed been shrinking, families with two or three children are still commonplace. Little is being done here.
Government social housing policy has been so far structured with an over-reliance on the private sector and on charities.
If this continues, and larger social housing lags behind, a good many new one-bed apartments will be occupied straight away by families priced out of larger accommodation. Only a wealthy single could afford current rents for one beds.
Today in Dublin 1, a one-bed flat rents for €1,700 to €2,000 per month while Cork City Centre's equivalent is now almost €1,000 per month.
These are not rents young single professionals or students can afford on their own. They are amounts low to middle income families might just scrape.
As we can already see by the children's clothes hung to dry from the balconies of apartments in our cities, Section 23's one beds - designed for students - are now family homes by default.
If building surges ahead without a wider provision of larger affordable homes, then the legacy of these guidelines could be damaging - more families paying out large to even bigger landlords to live in smaller one-bed spaces.
City living for 1918 rather than 2018.