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'No plans' to review co-living accommodation guidelines despite Covid-19 crisis, Murphy says

The Minister for Housing said co-living developments would “play an important role in catering for the diverse needs of the overall population”.

Minister Eoghan Murphy at a press conference earlier this month.
Minister Eoghan Murphy at a press conference earlier this month.
Image: Leon Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

MINISTER FOR HOUSING Eoghan Murphy has said there are “no plans” to review co-living settings in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Minister for Housing has been asked a string of parliamentary questions around housing policy in light of the current crisis, and in respect of co-living added that such forms of accommodation “play an important role in catering for the diverse needs of the overall population”. 

Murphy’s answer to the Dáil question last week came just after Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin labelled the latest co-living proposals for Dublin city centre as “the last thing we need” during a pandemic.

Provisions that would allow for co-living were brought in by the Housing Minister in 2018 when he published a document on Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments Guidelines for Planning Authorities.

Within this document were guidelines on co-living – or shared living – and how it could emerge as a “distinct segment within the overall urban accommodation sector”. 

Such developments should have a minimum 12 metres squared space for single rooms and a 18 metres squared space for double rooms, according to the Housing Department’s guidance. 

Since this guidance was published, a number of planning applications have been made to try secure permission for co-living developments in Dublin. 

The first major proposed development to come to light was located in Dun Laoghaire in May 2019.

At the time, local Fianna Fáil councillor – and now TD – Cormac Devlin told TheJournal.ie that he “wouldn’t even call them bedsits they’re so small”. Green Party MEP Ciaran Cuffe called them “Dickensian in nature”

There have since been a number of other planning applications for co-living developments in areas such as Rathmines and Tallaght. An appeal against Dublin City Council’s permission for a development in Rathmines is due to be decided upon by An Bord Pleanála next month. 

More recent applications have seen proposals for over 100 co-living units in a new development atop Jervis Street Shopping Centre and a smaller-scale co-living development near St James’s Hospital. 

The minister for housing has faced criticism for his defence of such developments in the past, after telling a conference that such blocks offer an “exciting” choice to young workers.

Murphy also told Newstalk Breakfast that co-living was “more like a very trendy, kind of, boutique hotel-type place” after it was put to him the conditions were more akin to a prison.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie on the Jervis development, Sinn Féin’s Ó Broin said that “co-living is bad for the people forced to live in it”. 

“If people were given the choice, they wouldn’t,” he said “And, at times when people are facing isolation and have to socially distance, none of that can be achieved in co-living. It serves no one.”

On foot of concerns around how such developments could work in the context of the pandemic, Social Democrat TD Cian O’Callaghan if the policy on co-living would be reviewed by the Department of Housing.

In the answer provided, the minister sought to emphasise how few co-living developments had been approved so far.

“To end Q1 2020, 294 co-living bedspaces have been approved, by An Bord Pleanála under the strategic housing development application process, for development since the guidelines came in to force in 2018,” he said. “In comparison, there were more than 60,000 homes permitted, none of which were co-living bedspaces, since the guidelines were published to the end of 2019 alone.

Although such accommodation formats are not as prevalent as individual houses or apartments, they nonetheless play an important role in catering for the diverse needs of the overall population.

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Murphy added that while there are “currently no plans” to review any of these formats in light of the pandemic, his department would continue to monitor public health advice and guidance as the crisis continues.

While there are no plans for co-living guidance to change, Murphy did confirm that introducing tougher regulations for short-term lets like Airbnb would be something that the next government would be looking at.

As the tourism industry ground to a halt at the start of the pandemic, the number of properties available to let on online platforms rose. 

The so-called surge in rental properties available eased from 170 additional properties in the week just after schools were closed to fewer than 20 additional rental properties in Central Dublin by mid-April, according to Daft.ie.

Last year, the government brought in new regulations on short-term letting that aimed to create strict limits on people renting out a part or all of their home for a period of time, usually to tourists who visit the country. This activity would be monitored by local authorities under the regulations.

Earlier this month, Green Party councillor Michael Pidgeon said the short-term letting regulations and the onus of Local Authorities to enforce them was done “arseways”.

“Local authorities are doing their best, but the national short-term let regulations are arseways,” he said.

In his response to the parliamentary question, Minister Murphy said that the extent of properties put on the market during the Covid-19 emergency “has highlighted the need for a more sustainable regulatory regime for this form of accommodation, which meets the needs of both the tourism and housing sectors”. 

“It will be a matter for the incoming government, and particularly the incoming Minister with responsibility for the tourism sector, to decide on any further actions it may wish to take in relation to the possible regulation of online platforms,” he said. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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