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'Nothing short of a disgrace': Public slam Murphy over 'appalling and pathetic' co-living proposals

FOI documents show correspondence sent to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy from members of the public.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

MEMBERS OF THE public have slammed Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy over “appalling and pathetic” proposals for co-living developments in Ireland, Freedom of Information documents show.

In May, Murphy told a conference that co-living blocks offer an “exciting” choice to young workers. 

In the weeks that followed, the Minister received significant backlash from opposition politicians over his statement.

The debate about co-living emerged shortly before his comments 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 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 construction of a building with 208 “single occupancy bedspaces”.

Criticism

Documents obtained by TheJournal.ie under Freedom of Information have now shown that Minister Murphy received multiple written complaints from members of the public over his comments. 

“This latest idea is just a step too far and I need to contact you and inform you of the anger I feel at this latest stunt you and your government are attempting to pull. I wonder if you would be willing to reside in these ‘hubs’ yourself? I doubt it very much,” one person wrote to the Minister.

The person went on to ask how Murphy would feel if his own children were put in a difficult position regarding housing: “How would you feel if your children were in this position? It’s nothing short of a disgrace and you and your government should be ashamed of yourselves.” 

Another person said Murphy’s comments are “an absolute insult to the intelligent smart generation working in our capital city”. 

Capture Correspondence sent to Minister Murphy following his comments about co-living

One 26-year-old wrote to Murphy and said he was “astounded” by the Minister’s comments. 

“Your comments on your planned communal housing have astounded me. I have never heard such an idea loathed by all; old and young, rich and poor,” they said.

It is quite clear that you are doing a horrendous job. Your incompetence has me flabbergasted. 

“You sir, have had me at such a loss for words at how utterly ridiculous your ‘solutions’ are for a housing crisis. An epidemic,” they said, calling for the Minister to resign.

Capture Further correspondence sent from another member of the public to Minister Murphy

Comparing the idea of co-living accommodation to communal flats in the former Soviet Union, another member of the public said: “Your bright new shiny scheme of co-living is appalling and pathetic.”

One person also slammed the proposals as a “complete joke”. 

‘Another option’

Following an outpouring of criticism over his comments in May, Murphy came out to defend the co-living model and hit out at a video released by Fianna Fáil on the developments, which dubbed the plans as “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 set out there can only be two to six rooms per co-living space.  

On 21 May, Murphy said co-living has been welcomed in other cities, and he cautioned politicians rushing to judgment on the basis of one planning application.

Despite Murphy’s insistence that co-living could be seen as an option for young workers, a number of professionals have written to Murphy to express their concern over the plans and outlined their experience with communal living and the rental market.

Writing to Murphy, a preschool teacher said that, in their experience, “house sharing with strangers is an awful nightmare” and should be a “last resort for people before they become homeless”. 

They noted that some single professionals “may like to have a friend or a housemate” but that this should be organised privately. 

Although fine for parties, house sharing was a hell I had to endure to make it through college.

“It’s not very nice when you come home to find a bunch of strangers taking over your sitting room, to find your kitchen a disgusting mess that never gets cleaned, or to have your items get broken/go missing, being afraid of catching germs in your own bathroom,” they wrote. 

foi1 A snippet from a letter written to Minister Murphy from a young working professional in Co Cork

They said they continued to house share for three years after finishing college because they could “only barely afford to do so on preschool teachers very low wage, despite having a level 8 degree”. 

The young professional said they now have a one-bedroom apartment in Cork city with their partner, adding:

Although it is extremely expensive, you could not pay me to go back house sharing.

Meanwhile, a 31-year-old woman with two Masters degrees, who works in full-time employment, also wrote to Murphy to criticise his comments. 

She explained that they earn a salary of €32,000 and commute to Dublin from Navan every day. She still lives with her parents, as she said she cannot afford to rent in her hometown. 

“Your new co-living plans have simply added insult to injury. If this is the type of accommodation you see as acceptable for young professionals like myself then you are further removed from the realities of young working people than I imagined,” she said. 

“The rent being suggested for living in one of these tiny rooms would make up well over half of my monthly wage and leave little to actually live on.”

Co-living plans

The regulations dealing with co-living developments were 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.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also spoke out in May about co-living accommodation. 

He said it is important “to put this in context”, and 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”.

“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,” Varadkar said. 

As a number of co-living planning applications are still processing, it remains unclear if this accommodation model will work its way into Ireland’s housing market. 

However, most recently, a proposed development of over 200 co-living units was refused by An Bord Pleanála earlier this week. 

The application by Bartra Property would have seen 222 co-living units and 150 apartments built at the Cookstown Industrial Estate in Tallaght.

RTÉ reported on Monday that in refusing the application An Bord Pleanála said that the co-living spaces would “fail to provide an acceptable living environment” and pointed to a “notable shortfall in the provision of sufficient communal facilities”. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that the department did not comment on individual cases, but noted that the “department is satisfied that the co-living guidelines are robust and will continue to monitor the sector”.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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