Thursday 24 October 2019

Lorraine Courtney: ''Co-living' in micro-flats is trendy solution to our housing crisis that strips our dignity'

Thousands of people attended the housing protest in Dublin last Saturday. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Thousands of people attended the housing protest in Dublin last Saturday. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

BUSILY competing for "nimby" votes in this week's local elections, every canvasser at my door has been promising me more affordable and social home-building.

Canvassing offers councillors an excellent chance to assess and respond to the distinctive housing needs of their local area. Only by addressing real needs can we deliver homes that are appropriate, and not crazy concepts such as "co-living".

Have you heard of this cool new trend called co-living? It's a bit like co-working, except instead of sharing an office with a bunch of strangers, you share your home with a bunch of strangers.

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Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy insists tiny rooms and shared kitchens are part of the solution to the housing crisis. Writing in the Irish Independent on Saturday, he said: "The State is very deliberately inserting itself directly into the provision of housing as it rebuilds a sector destroyed in the crash - from the type of homes being built, to their location and even price."

The dream of owning your own home is well and truly broken for a growing number of us, but we can't allow the Government to shoehorn us into rabbit hutches.

Is this how hopeless our housing crisis has got - that an entire generation is to be condemned to living in overpriced rented bedsits, robbed of the joy of ever having friends over for tea or sprawling out on the settee after a day's work?

The idea is that all the young professionals can get together - living in tiny bedrooms with showers and sharing communal spaces with others - is a sick joke. For a start, communal living is hardly a departure from tradition - it's a return to the dark days of tenement life.

And the truth is that young people all over Dublin are already doing this, living in small spaces, in shared homes, where the landlord has often converted a living room into an extra bedroom.

A planning application has been lodged for a development of more than 200 co-­living homes in south Dublin. If approved, the building in Dún Laoghaire will be the largest such development in the country.

Co-living has only recently been included in planning regulations and each en suite room will be 16.5 sq m, with a pull-down bed. More than 42 people would share a kitchen. There is a very fine line between innovation and desperation.

Promoting the trend of "co-living" space as the new, wonderful and inevitable lifestyle for young people seeking to enter our impossibly expensive housing market isn't good enough. I've spent the past decade in enough house shares to know that sharing with strangers rarely works out well. I've lived with the always-homer, the milk-robber, the party animal and an assortment of oddballs. All I have ever wanted is my own space and a front door to close behind me, not a cruel and cynical reimagining of Soviet Russia's housing, except with interiors that Instagram nicely.

Very few people I know want to live in a place where there's no room to swing a cat, let along raise a child. We need to find genuine alternatives and solutions to our housing crisis.

We need to build decent housing that is suitable for human living. If more homes were available to rent and buy, there would be no housing crisis. We also need to revitalise rural Ireland so that everyone doesn't have to cram into Dublin.

A study by Future Analytics Consulting, for Dublin City's Housing Observatory, said the population of the city could rise by 7.5pc to as much as 11.5pc, depending on Brexit's impact. The number of people added by 2022 versus the 2016 census would be more than 150,000, a worrying expansion for a city that does not have enough houses for the current population.

But the Government's agenda seldom cares for the local shops, the bars and post offices, the schools and GAA clubs and the care centres - all the things that keep rural Ireland's heart beating.

The poverty rate in rural Ireland is 4.5 percentage points higher than in urban Ireland as young people flock to the cities and towns, chasing education and job opportunities. The Government has launched a €1bn fund for investment in rural towns and villages with a population under 10,000 over the next 10 years, but change needs to happen now.

We need rural broadband and we need to invigorate rural Ireland, for all ages. We need to consider a lower tax rate for rural dwellers, to encourage more people to live and work in the countryside. We should pilot a 5pc reduction in this year's Budget.

Thousands of people marched through Dublin on Saturday over the rising homeless figures and the housing crisis in a rally organised by a coalition of trade unions, political parties and community groups. The latest figures from the Department of Housing show there were 10,305 people registered as homeless in Ireland in March.

The protest heard demands for the right to housing to be formally inserted into the Constitution, but I'm not convinced that would radically change the Government's actions.

Co-living is a deceptively cruel concept by our Government to put us into ever- tinier flats and justify market prices. Nobody should be condemned to live with strangers, sharing kitchens and living rooms for decades, because successive governments failed to deal with a housing crisis.

If we let them get away with micro-flats now, they'll be selling us coffins as a cool lifestyle alternative next.

Irish Independent

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