Friday 18 October 2019

Laura Lynott: 'Residents will have less space than prisoners in 'glorified shoe boxes' of co-living blocks'


‘Exciting’: A mock-up of one of the proposed housing units. Photo: Gerry Mooney
‘Exciting’: A mock-up of one of the proposed housing units. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

Renters in new co-living developments could get less space than a prison cell.

Under the Department of Housing's official guidelines, an individual co-living unit can be a minimum of 12sqm for a single room and 18sqm for a double or twin, including en-suite.

This means the single units could be smaller than some cells in Irish prisons.

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One Green Party politician has warned that the "disturbing" development could herald a "race to the bottom" in the provision of rental housing.

Official sources say that prison cells at both Cork and Midlands prisons are up to 15sqm in size.

The Cork jail opened in 2016 and was deemed state of the art, giving prisoners more space and a more normalised environment to enhance family interactions.

However, the news that the Department of Housing has opened the door to rented living spaces smaller than some of these cells has been heavily criticised.

Ciaran Cuffe, a Dublin councillor who is set to win a European seat in the city for the Green Party, said: "My worry is this is a race to the bottom and that new regulations will now allow developers to propose their own standard.

"(Housing Minister) Eoghan Murphy has thrown away the rule book and this is deeply disturbing. I'm not surprised to hear some prison cells will be bigger under these plans.

"I think the co-living spaces are glorified shoe boxes and if the developer sees more profit from co-living spaces, it may be that this will be the only housing provided."

Mr Cuffe added that Mr Murphy should resign.

The minister was heavily criticised after telling a housing conference in Dublin last week young people should be "excited" to live in smaller and more affordable spaces.

The Irish Independent has learned that one planned co-living development in Dún Laoghaire is considering charging people around €1,100 a month to stay in one of the 208 planned 16.5sqm units.

If all rooms were to be filled, this would be a potential rental income of €228,800 a month for Bartra Property Group.

The firm is seeking planning permission, but Mr Cuffe believes that if such buildings go ahead it will be just the start of many more projects like this.

And he added that they were "not affordable".

He insisted that the co-living model publicised by the Government is aimed at "vulnerable foreign workers in precarious employment, people who have no other option".

"€1,100 is not affordable and from that figure, it looks like developers will make three times the profit on a decent size apartment development and I'm sure they will clear up," he said.

"I don't have a problem with developers making a reasonable profit, but it will reduce affordability and increase box-type accommodation."

John-Mark McCafferty, chief executive of the housing charity Threshold, said: "It's clear the co-living sizes are not conducive to long-term living.

"They smack of being temporary in nature and we have been pushing away from those standards.

"The problem is too many families are being made homeless and are being housed for months and years on end in hotels.

"And now we are mainstreaming hotel-type buildings for long-term residents. Why is this happening in a western European country?

"I've heard comments that co-living is for tech workers, working long shifts and a place to lay their heads, but this is not a sustainable way of living for a community."

Mr McCafferty said co-living may increase housing supply, but the units are not affordable.

He described co-living as the "student housing-fication" of home building.

"It's all been the building of hotels and student accommodation in Dublin recently and I'm wondering will the next most profitable thing be co-living? We are shifting from three and four-beds to co-living, when we know the demand is for humane homes and apartments."

Labour spokeswoman on housing Jan O'Sullivan said: "The very idea that some co-living spaces could be smaller than prison cells is appalling.

"I'm not saying prisoners should not have enough space but the idea that co-living spaces could be smaller than a prison cell shows how unacceptable this is as a proposal.

"The minister needs to scrap this plan and go back to the drawing board. We didn't call for his resignation but would support a no-confidence motion as a result of this plan."

A spokesman for the Department of Housing said: "The granting of planning permission for a co-living development other than the format will be at the discretion of the planning authority.

"However, in assessing such proposals, planning authorities should ensure that sufficient communal amenities are provided in accordance with the specified standards in the guidelines.

"Co-living is a concept proven in modern cities across the world like London, Berlin, Paris and Vienna. Examples in other countries are high quality and the guidelines do not make any compromise on quality.

"The guidelines... make clear that co-living developments are not seen as a replacement for traditional apartments but another choice for those at a point in their life where renting is an attractive option."

Irish Independent

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