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Don't judge co-living on one planning application, says minister as proposals dubbed '21st century bedsits'

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said co-living is an ‘exciting’ choice for young workers.

Image: Shutterstock/Leonid Eremeychuk

HOUSING MINISTER EOGHAN Murphy has been heavily criticised for comments he made about proposals for co-living developments in Ireland. 

Co-living blocks offer an “exciting” choice to young workers, Murphy told a Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and Department of Housing conference yesterday. 

Today, the issue of co-living was raised by a number of deputies who said the government was “out of touch” with the public in relation to the issue.

The debate about co-living emerged recently on foot of a developer’s plans to build a block of 208 studio dwellings which would see dozens of people sharing one kitchen.

The proposed Dublin development would be one of the first “co-living” buildings that became permissible under design standard guidelines for new apartments that were introduced in March 2018.

The Bartra Capital Property Group has applied to An Bord Pleanála for permission to build a five-floor building on Eblana Avenue in Dun Laoghaire.

If approved the plans would see the demolition of all existing buildings on the 2,629 square metre site and the construction of a 6,501 square metre building with 208 “single occupancy bedspaces”.

Planning application

However, sources within government have questioned whether such a development would get the green light.

The minister introduced changes to the minimum-apartment-size guidelines to allow for co-living developments. The developments allow occupants have their own room, en-suite and shower, but they will share living and kitchen spaces.

This evening, defending the co-living model, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy criticised a video released by Fianna Fáil on the developments, which dubbed the plans has “hair-brained”. 

Murphy said the video was a “lazy misinterpretation” adding that “16 m/sq is larger than rooms in traditional house shares”.

He said co-living offers young workers “another option” and clarified that the planning regulations sets out there can only be two to six rooms per co-living space.  

Tweet by @Eoghan Murphy Source: Eoghan Murphy/Twitter

Labour’s Brendan Howlin dubbed the co-living proposals as “ludicrous” today in the Dáil, stating that there is an attempt to “normalise cramped living conditions and erode public housing standards that we have spent most of our lives trying to improve”.

He accused Murphy has become “an apologist for those who wish to push down the quality of housing”.

Howlin said the government “is out of touch with the reality of the lives of the vast bulk of working people”, adding:

Not everyone is privileged enough to go from college into a well-paid professional job, and quickly earn enough to be able to put down a deposit on a family home. The Minister’s assumption seems to be that co-living would be an acceptable option for someone on this gilded path. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the kinds of jobs that are available to most people.

Social Democrats’ Catherine Murphy said:

It truly beggars belief that the Minister is publicly endorsing this box-room model of housing which is about maximising profits at the expense of people who desperate for a place to live in Dublin.
This model of communal living is neither sustainable nor affordable. Instead of prioritising quality and affordable homes to buy or rent, Minister Murphy is championing the downgrading of living conditions and living standards for an entire generation of young people.

A need for choice

Murphy said today that these guidelines “are not a response to the crisis in and of themselves”, stating that people need choice.

He said that co-living has been welcomed in other cities and cautioned politicians rushing to judgment on the basis of one planning application.

This was reiterated by one government source who told TheJournal.ie that planning permission has not yet been granted for the development at the centre of this debate.

“We wouldn’t judge all houses using the planning application for one single house, and we shouldn’t do that here,” they said.

The regulations dealing with co-living developments was launched back in 2017 – with those in government stating that they were largely welcomed. 

At the time, it is understood the model was based on The Collective Old Oak shared apartments in London, which is the world’s largest co-living building with a community of over 500.

The LifeX development is another model cited as an example that the Irish system might be modelled upon. It has living spaces in Munich, Vienna, and Copenhagen, with prices ranging from €700 to €1,500 per individual, depending on the city. 

While short-term one night stays are permitted in the LifeX development, it is not permitted under the current rules for Irish blocks. 

Discussing the matter during Leaders’ Questions today, the Taoiseach said it is important “to put this in context”, stating that the co-living development referred to “probably accounts for less than 1% of the new homes being built in the country at the moment”.

He said:

There could be as few as half a dozen developments of this type this year and next year. It is important to put this in context. The type of housing may be a choice for some people. We live in a country that has an increasing population, which is a good thing.
Our population is approaching 5 million, if it has not reached that level already. We live in a country where new households are being formed all the time. As people get married and start families, they need their own homes. We also live in a country where there was almost no construction activity at all for seven years.
As a result, there is an overhang of demand for housing that was not met for a long period of time. In my view and in the Government’s view, we need new housing of all different types and sorts, and lots of it. We need social housing for people who are on the housing list, many of whom have been on that list for far too long.

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