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'We never said we were there to solve the homeless crisis': CEO behind controversial co-living project speaks out

The company told TheJournal.ie that it was also considering Cork and Galway for co-living projects.

CGI image of the interior of the bedroom living space
CGI image of the interior of the bedroom living space
Image: Bartra Capital Property

THE COMPANY BEHIND a controversial new co-living development in Dublin has responded to criticism that the proposed type of accommodation was not helpful to the housing crisis.

Bartra Capital Property has proposed a 208-bedroom community development on Elbara Avenue in Dun Laoghaire.

It would see more than 40 residents per floor, with a shared communal kitchen and dining lounge between them, in addition to indoor and outdoor communal spaces on the first floor. 

It sparked widespread political commentary, however, with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy saying “people will be very excited” about co-living, while opposition politicians, including Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, described it as a “glamourised form of tenement living”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie in the company’s first response to the criticism, Bartra Capital Property’s CEO Mike Flannery said the development was not designed in response to growing homeless figures and insisted misinformation about the project was being circulated by politicians.

“I think it’s all of our responsibilities to find solutions to the homeless crisis but I never said, and Bartra never said, that we were there to solve the homeless crisis,” he said.

“For families in homelessness, this is not part of the solution. They’re not designed for that, they need to be provided with appropriate social housing or affordable accommodation and that’s different.

“There are lots of parts of the market which are having problems at the moment in terms of accommodation, and at the really tragic end of the market is homelessness – or the families or young couples trying to get onto the housing market that can’t.

“But they’re not the only part of the accommodation issue. There is also a very big accommodation issue for young, single people who are working on an average kind of salary or thereabouts and who are not couples.”

Co-living buildings have popped up in cities across Europe in recent years, including in London where the biggest company, The Collective, said its ‘The Oaks’ development of more than 550 rooms had a 98% occupancy rate over the past three years.

It rents out rooms on either a short or longer-term basis, at a cost upwards of €1,100 per month. The company announced it had bought its own site in Dublin’s Liberties for co-living last week.

The estimated cost of each unit in Bartra’s Dun Laoghaire development, which is currently before An Bord Pleanála for planning permission, would be around €1,300 per month on either a quarterly, half-yearly or annual basis.

Meanwhile, during questioning in the Dáil this week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he anticipates An Bord Pleanála will refuse or significantly modify any development that’s not within the government’s housing guidelines.

Flannery, a former Chief Operations Officer at CIE Group, said that the planning application was submitted within the guidelines which were set out by Minister Eoghan Murphy last year.

In 2018, Murphy changed the minimum size guidelines to allow for developments such as co-living units. 

Nurses and teachers

Flannery said Bartra had carried out market research which concluded that this development would be aimed towards newly qualified nurses or teachers, and other qualified workers in Dublin between the ages of 20 and 34 years old.

“I’m not for one second saying that this is to everybody’s taste… neither is a 3-bed semi to everybody’s taste, and this is what’s forgotten in the discourse.

co - living A CGI image of the private living space with pull-down bed Source: Bartra Capital

“Not everyone is in a relationship, not everyone gets up at 8 o’clock in the morning to have their breakfast. There is mixture in life now and we need to respond to the mixture in life with different types of accommodation.

“I know in certain areas nurses are travelling long distances after long shifts for affordable accommodation.

“We can provide them with accommodation close to their place of work and for an all-in single bill per month, this will form part of what’s comfortable for them, as a proportion of their income – 40% or thereabouts is what people are comfortable at.

“We have done the market research that says that this type of accommodation is not just one that people would settle for, but they’d actually seek it rather than go somewhere else.”

Bartra has three other co-living developments in the works at locations across Dublin with a vision to move into other cities around Ireland including Cork and Galway, according to Flannery.

A proposal for a Rathmines development was withdrawn after being shot down by Dublin City Council and a new application will be submitted.

Sites in Castleknock and Cookstown are also being developed for co-living buildings.

“There is a growing swathe of people who are single for longer, or more transient for longer, who cannot afford to access traditional one bed apartments,” he said.

“For those who want a house share for cheaper rent and are saving for different reasons, or are just more thrifty, or just don’t want to interact with as many people as that, they’re never going to come to our building. That is fine.

“They need to be taken care of by a different part of the accommodation market. We also build apartments and perhaps they’ll want to occupy those,” Flannery said.

Reception2 CGI of the building's reception

Flannery said those who will never live there and who are “primarily middle aged… have an unconscious bias” towards the modern community living concept. 

“Most of the people I see commenting on it live in nuclear families, they’re heterosexual married people with children telling an inbound gay person from Madrid who is single how they should live.

“It isn’t all about affordability all of the time, it is about lifestyle choices that people make and they want to travel more and all those things,” he added.

Like the co-living developments in London and New York, Bartra’s proposed monthly cost covers rent and utilities, and facilities such as WiFi, room cleaning twice a month and security.

Said Flannery: “It’s just another type of accommodation choice that should be available for people who choose that type of lifestyle for a period of time.

“I don’t think it’s right for anyone to tell someone that their accommodation or their choice of accommodation is inappropriate.

“We don’t see it as solving all the problems that the politicians want it to solve but we were never going to solve that,” he added.

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