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Developer claims there is lower risk of transmitting Covid-19 in co-living than in shared houses and apartments

A commissioned report claims there would be lower transmission of the virus in a co-living building than in a shared house.

Visualisation of the co-living building planned in Rathmines.
Visualisation of the co-living building planned in Rathmines.
Image: Dublin City Council/Bartra

PROPERTY GROUP Bartra Capital has claimed the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in its shared co-living accommodation buildings is lower than the risk of transmission in a smaller shared house or apartment. 

Bartra has co-living developments planned for a number of locations across Dublin, including a 208-unit building in Dun Laoghaire and a 98-unit building in Rathmines, and just last week submitted a new proposal for a 105-unit development in Ballsbridge. 

A risk assessment carried out by occupational health consultancy Corporate Health Ireland (CHI) on behalf of Bartra deemed that “the risks of transmission would be less than for people living in a normal house or shared apartment” despite shared communal kitchens, tv rooms, and an onsite gym. 

Corporate Health Ireland, a Cork-based firm which provides advice and assessment to businesses and organisations, carried out the assessment ahead of Bartra’s Ballsbridge planning permission application.

It will be submitted to Dublin City Council in a bid to secure planning permission at the Ballsbridge location. 

The report, prepared by occupational physician and CHI director Dr Martin Hogan and seen by TheJournal.ie, claims ”the risk assessment determined a low risk of transmission between persons in the co-living development” and that “individuals would not be close contacts simply by living in the building even if another person living in the building was confirmed as Covid (sic)”. 

It also suggested that “the self-contained nature of the 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”. 

Residents of co-living buildings are “not considered to increase the risk of transmission given all the controls that are in place,” as only four people can use the kitchen areas at any one time and the onsite gym and tv rooms will operate at a lower capacity, according to the report. 

In his analysis, Hogan described Bartra’s co-living proposal as “unique in Irish terms”. 

The report relates to the proposed development at 98 Merrion Road in Ballsbridge, but the outcome of the risk assessment would also apply to the other developments in the works, according to Bartra CEO Mike Flannery. 

Flannery said individual risk assessments would also be commissioned for the company’s other buildings. 

Dun Laoghaire co-living CGI CGI image of the interior of the Dun Laoghaire co-living proposal.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Hogan explained: “I know that these kind of accommodations have got a bit of bad press and I have no view on that, but my only view is in relation to Covid and the risks.

“And what I would say is if Covid was your only judgment bar, and I know it isn’t and it’s one aspect that’s topical, but if Covid was your bar, you certainly would prefer these than your normal apartments.

“The risk of transmission to anyone else is really low and you can’t say that of a normal apartment block where you have to come out [of your room] to go to the toilet. In terms of urban living where you have people sharing accommodations, this is at the very lower end of the risk in my viewpoint.”

Hogan said the self-contained units, fitted with a bathroom and cooking area within the 16sq metre room, eliminates the close contact between residents that exists in shared houses or apartments, where toilets and utensils are shared. 

He added that if one person contracted the virus in a building of 100 residents, he would remain confident that the remaining residents would not contract the virus from that resident. 

“In a shared house, if one person gets Covid then all four have to quarantine for 14 days, they are sharing toilets and kitchen accommodation. All five have to isolate whether they get Covid or not, that’s the advice.

“My view is that none of the other 100 residents would be at risk.”

Bartra said limitations will be imposed on residents in co-living blocks to restrict their movement in communal areas. 

“The biggest floor we will have here will be 20 suites, they have a kitchen, and they have their own in-room cooking facility. If they choose to use the kitchen, only four people at a time can use it and they have to book it in advance,” Flannery said. 

“Twenty people are not going to be in the kitchen at the one time. They’re not allowed, and the kitchen is professionally cleaned.”

In the case that a resident of the co-living complex contracted Covid, Flannery said that they would be confined to their room and all other residents would be notified of the case. 

“The individual will have to abide by the rules of the Government. They’ll have to isolate,” Flannery said. 

“Obviously, the people who monitor this in Ireland will have to be notified. We apply the law the way any organisation does or any apartment block does,” he added.  

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Last weekend, TheJournal.ie reported that Bartra’s plans to develop a 20-unit apartment on the Ballsbridge site has been scrapped in favour a new co-living development

The company was originally granted planning permission to demolish the existing guesthouse building located at the 98 Merrion Road site, opposite the British embassy, and to develop 20 units but has now requested permission to develop a co-living building which will accommodate 111 people. 

Last year, the concept of co-living sparked a debate among TDs when the then Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said “people will be very excited” about the developments, while at the same time Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was describing them as a “glamourised form of tenement living”.  

At the time Fianna Fáil’s spokespersons on housing Darragh O’Brien, who is now the Housing Minister in the current Government, said he was opposed to the concept of co-living and called on Murphy to amend legislation around co-living. 

More recently, O’Brien has softened his stance on the issue but said he will carry out a review of the housing model. 

The cost of renting a co-living room in a shared complex is thought to be around €1,300.

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