Friday 23 August 2019

'Middle-aged white men wouldn't get the idea of co-living' - developer gives tour of communal home

Retort: Michael Flannery in a mock-up of one of the proposed housing units. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Retort: Michael Flannery in a mock-up of one of the proposed housing units. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Personal space: How a room in one of the co-living units being planned by Bartra Capital could look
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

The chief executive of a property company looking for planning consent for 208 co-living rooms said "middle-aged white men in nuclear families" couldn't understand the generation looking for communal homes.

Michael Flannery, whose firm Bartra Capital Property Group is planning Ireland's biggest co-living development in Dún Laoghaire, has hit back at those slating the plan.

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"It was meant to be for a particular cohort but it's not appropriate for some to be lecturing them on what they should want, when they have a particular view on life that in my opinion is unconsciously biased," said Mr Flannery.

"The general bias comes from white, middle-aged men in nuclear families. They believe everyone should live life exactly the way they do and it's not the way the world is any more."

Co-living has been widely criticised after Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said young people should be "excited" to live in smaller and more affordable places.

The 16.5sqm rooms in the Dún Laoghaire development could be priced up to €1,300 a month. "The payment covers everything, not just rent - wifi, gas and everything, including fortnightly cleaning," he said.

"In the case of Dún Laoghaire, the economic report said rent would be about €1,300 a month, which would compete very favourably if you were trying to get a one-bedroom apartment."

Co-living is a "design response" and the firm believes there's a "cohort in the market looking for this accommodation".

"It's not meant to be a design response for the housing crisis, the homelessness issue or indeed for families," Mr Flannery said. "So there is no gun being held to anyone's head to say you must rent one.

"I believe that because human beings are social animals, if you provide accommodation with the option to take private time, or if they choose to interact socially with others, that will be a robust investment for the longer term."

Personal space: How a room in one of the co-living units being planned by Bartra Capital could look
Personal space: How a room in one of the co-living units being planned by Bartra Capital could look

He said the firm is looking to target the Instagram and Snapchat generation.

"Commentators coming from an unconscious bias of being generally white, middle-aged, from a nuclear-type family, are not going to get this because it's not for you.

"This is for people between 20 and 35 who are single and employed and are in effect priced out of other accommodation in central locations or close to where they want to be in terms of their jobs.

"What seems to be missing from a lot of the discourse is half the building is actually shared space, where you can socially interact. Half of it is lounging areas and kitchens."

"The other thing I find quite amusing is this thing that everyone gets up together and works a monotone nine to five," he added. "I'm not sure what world these politicians and commentators live in.

"You take a figure quoted of 40 people sharing a kitchen. We carefully designed that and calibrated that as we believe, on average, that five to seven people at one point in time might be in the area, so there's plenty of cooking facilities, if you take it from 6am to 10.30am or 11am and then from 4pm till 9pm at night.

The point is people want to see other people there, they don't want to be in a kitchen on their own.

"You create an environment that's carefully managed to give single people the opportunity to be close to public transport or to have a 'Game of Thrones night', or Champions League night, or you can hire in a chef to cook for everyone.

"These things are managed like an entertainment-like arrangement. In no circumstances have we ever said they are part of the solution for family homes, they're not.

"It's funny when I listen to some of the commentary on this. Solitary confinement is a form of prison punishment.

"Yet all of the commentary I'm hearing is about how people should be allowed to have vast amounts of space without any sense of how you create social inclusion."

The application is before An Bord Pleanála.

Irish Independent

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