Monday 19 August 2019

Niamh Horan: 'Co-living works - but don't tell that to the foaming mouth brigade'

The backlash over the Housing Minister's comments shows the art of mature debate is dead, writes Niamh Horan

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

For everything that social media has destroyed, I miss reasonable debate the most. It now seems impossible to have a mature discussion without the mob descending on a nuanced thought and running away with it like a pack of rabid dogs.

Last Friday, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy became the latest victim of the foaming-mouth brigade. He was speaking on Newstalk's breakfast show when he compared co-living developments to "a trendy boutique hotel".

For anyone who doesn't know: co-living allows people to rent a chic, well-furnished room and en-suite bathroom for less money than it would cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in a similar location.

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As part of the deal, you get access to the building's services - such as a gym, movie room, games room and communal kitchen, dining and living areas, which you share with others living in the same block.

If this reminds you of a hotel - albeit minus the chefs and cleaners - then you can see the minister's point. An upmarket hotel and you're even more on the ball - because it typically costs about €1,300 a month.

But the outcry came loud and fast and dominated headlines before anyone had a chance to even consider Mr Murphy's main point: such accommodation is aimed at only 1pc of the market - the well-paid, young people living in the city centre, of which we have an abundance. Co-living was never meant to be a solution to the housing crisis, which the minister is trying to fix, and latest figures show his measures are working - the house price index and rent inflation are finally slowing and supply is catching up with demand.

I hate to say it, but part of the problem is that the media is as guilty of stoking up anger as the keyboard warriors.

RTE's Prime Time has previously covered the issue of co-living by plonking four pieces of plywood in the middle of a field, throwing in a toilet, bed, sink and hob and walking young people through it, asking if they would like to live in such a dwelling. Hardly representing anything close to the real deal.

Newstalk took its own stab at rage-stoking when the minister was asked if the co-living development rooms would be akin to living in a prison.

Personally I think Mr Murphy did well not to repeatedly bang his head off the radio studio's desk.

This also comes after a summer of commentators scoffing at the fact that each en-suite bedroom will be 16.5sqm (177sq ft) and gleefully pointing out that's just below the size of a disabled parking space.

It would make you wonder how many have actually visited a co-living space. If they haven't, they could simply take out a measuring tape and use it to ascertain the size of existing bedrooms in some of the most sought-after locations in Dublin city centre. Most are the same size as a disabled parking space - and fit a wardrobe, bed, bookcase, chest of drawers and full-length mirror and still leave plenty of space to walk around. I know because I have been happily sleeping in one for years.

My only guess is that people enjoyed having a go at Mr Murphy over the co-living issue because the housing market is broken and it has been for years and they are frustrated and angry.

It doesn't matter that the current minister didn't cause the mess - as far back as 2010, the government was warned that there would be a major housing shortage but didn't build; it doesn't matter that he is now slowly tackling his mandate - house builds are up 23pc year on year; and it doesn't matter that this concept does actually suit a niche market. The only thing the matters, it seems, is that people vent their anger and Murphy is the latest pinata.

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