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Co-living developer seeks meeting with housing minister over 'sustained misinformed public commentary'

The request comes as the minister carries out a review on whether co-living developments should be banned.

Bartra's co-living development plans for Dun Laoghaire.
Bartra's co-living development plans for Dun Laoghaire.
Image: Dublin City Council

PROPERTY DEVELOPER BARTRA Capital has sought a meeting with Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien to challenge what it has described as “sustained misinformed public commentary” as the minister undertakes a review on the controversial housing developments. 

As Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on housing last year, O’Brien suggested that co-living units should be banned in the State while homeless figures continue to number in the thousands. 

Since taking up office as Minister, O’Brien has stopped short of saying he will use his ministerial powers to halt such developments, adding that he will carry out a review of all housing models, including co-living, before making a decision. 

Barta is one of the leading co-living developers in the country and has secured planning permission in several sites across Dublin including Dun Laoghaire and Rathmines with several planning applications awaiting a final decision. 

In July, the property group also submitted an application to develop a 111-bed co-living property at a site on Merrion Road in Ballsbridge where it had already secured planning permission for an apartment complex. 

At that time, Bartra’s CEO Mike Flannery wrote to the Housing Minister to congratulate him on his new ministerial post, to discuss the “important role” it says co-living can play in the Irish housing market, and to invite him to visit its showrooms in Rathmines. 

“I am writing to you today to outline the benefits of shared living/co-living for those who choose to live there, and the small but important role it can play in our broader accommodation market,” the letter seen by TheJournal.ie under Freedom Of Information states. 

“I would also like to challenge the sustained misinformed public commentary that shared living has attracted.”

The letter points to other European cities where co-living properties have been developed  such as Vienna and Copenhagen and states “surely Government policy should not be seeking to remove this prospective choice”. 

‘It is understandable that there are concerns about new accommodation models and I note your stated position on ‘co-living’,” the letter states. “However, I feel strongly that our shared accommodation model will offer our single people much needed choice, high quality accommodation.”

Flannery suggested the minister should meet with him to discuss the issue further and invited him to visit the company’s replica co-living showroom in Rathmines, Co Dublin. 

“I would welcome the opportunity to meet you, and your Department officials, in Rathmines to facilitate a better understanding of our shared living offer,” he said. 

“I would like to finish by stating it is a tremendous boost to the country to have a strong and stable Government in place and we are very encouraged by the Programme for Government’s focus on housing policy.

“We look forward to working with Government on providing practical solutions across Bartra’s social and affordable housing, nursing home, and shared living platforms.”

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, a Department of Housing spokesperson said the Minister has not held any meetings with the developer nor has it any plans to do so. 

The spokesperson also confirmed that the review of housing models has been initiated but that a deadline for completion of that review has still not been set. 

It is understood that a number of Government ministers, including the Finance Minister, were invited to visit Bartra’s co-living showrooms but none have accepted that invite to date. 

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Co-living during Covid-19

The letter also addresses the issue of safety in co-living buildings during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Last month a report, prepared by occupational physician and Corporate Health Ireland director Dr Martin Hogan on behalf of Barta, and seen by TheJournal.ie, claimed there is a lower risk of Covid-19 transmission in co-living properties of upwards of 100 residents than smaller shared apartments or houses with fewer residents. 

That report claimed that “the self-contained nature of the [co-living] private suites dramatically reduces the risk of transmission of the virus and indeed make suites ideal for self-isolation or quarantine if that were required”. 

It prompted criticism among politicians, with Labour Senator and Party Spokesperson on Housing Rebecca Moynihan at the time insisting “developers can’t be relied upon to provide objective public health advice”. 

In his letter to the minister, Flannery said: “More troubling to Bartra is the incorrect commentary circulating which implies the health of shared living residents is at a greater risk in a Covid-19 environment than those who reside in apartment [sic] or house shares”.

‘This is factually incorrect,” said Flannery, who included a copy of the report prepared by Corporate Health Ireland in his correspondence with the minister. 

In a response to Flannery seen by TheJournal.ie under FOI, a spokesperson for the Minister told Bartra the Minister could not comment on specific co-living applications referred to in his letter but added that “the Minister is cognisant that the co-living concept represents a very small portion of the housing sector”.

“His recent comments have made clear that he considers it important to review the concept of co-living in an Irish context, at this stage, having regard to standards and accommodation needs. The Minister is considering the most appropriate mechanism for doing so.”

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