Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Questions (38)

Mick Barry


38. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the minimum guidelines for dormitory space and for cubicles and the shared kitchen ratio for co-living arrangements. [24035/19]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Housing)

The next question is being taken by Deputy Coppinger, who has 30 seconds to introduce it.

While I acknowledge the Minister has been asked about this incessantly, the public is still very interested in where the Minister got the exciting concept of co-living. Just how small do the units have to be? Could the Minister comment on yesterday's very detailed evidence that the proposal would actually be a disaster for those facing a housing crisis because it would push up the price of land and veer developers in this direction?

I thank the Deputy for the question. In 2018, I published updated Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments Guidelines for Planning Authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. The guidelines propose one possible format for shared accommodation or co-living units comprising two to six bedrooms, including en suites, those bedrooms being larger than standard bedroom sizes, with a common shared area for living and kitchen facilities, which would have a maximum occupancy of eight people. While the guidelines do acknowledge that other formats may be proposed for consideration by individual planning authorities in certain circumstances, the articulated format is a strong guide to what is expected from this emerging sector.

In assessing proposals, planning authorities are required to ensure that sufficient communal amenities are provided in accordance with the specified standards and that the scale of the development is appropriate to the location and buildings involved. They must also be cognisant of the specific role that the development of the shared accommodation sector should play in the wider urban apartment market.

It is important to note the guidelines were the subject of more than five weeks of public consultation, following the issuing of draft guidelines on 18 December 2017. Neither the Deputy nor her party availed of the opportunity to make a submission as part of this consultation. The guidelines were finalised on 9 March 2018 and were broadly welcomed by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, with the institute's president commenting that the "new guidelines respond to our changing demographics and create four specific types of apartments which will allow for better housing mix: Build to Rent, Shared Living, Owner Occupier and Student Accommodation". Furthermore, he stated the new approach should:

see the sector innovate to respond to the changing market. Two thirds of new households in Ireland over the past twenty years consist of one or two people, yet we are not building enough apartments to cater for this new demographic. At present there are 2.5 times as many one- and two-person households as there are homes to suit them.

While I am satisfied that the guidelines, as issued, are robust, given the relatively new nature of this form of accommodation, my Department will monitor the emerging shared accommodation sector and may issue further additional technical updates, as appropriate, to ensure the appropriate development of this form of accommodation.

I am not going to spend too much time dealing with the fact that it is clear most people do not want to live in a dog box, which is what the Minister is proposing, but I ask him to comment on yesterday's revelations by Mel Reynolds, the architect and housing analyst. He made the excellent point that there are some people in Dublin getting very excited about co-living, namely, the developers. It just stands to reason that if one owns land that is lying vacant right now, one will apply to build co-living units, just like the student accommodation that is flying up all around Dublin and other cities. Many people thought there was a tax incentive for this but there is not. It just makes perfect sense: yield equals value for developers.

Under the co-living arrangement the Minister is talking about, five co-living bedrooms can fit in a site the same size as a typical two-bedroom apartment. Those in one-person and two-person households do not want to live in co-living arrangements in modern tenements.

More than a year ago, the new guidelines came into force. The Deputy and her party did not participate in the public consultation that was held at the time. According to the logic of the article published yesterday and to which the Deputy referred, which is that allowing for more units on a site will drive up the cost of that site, one would build only one unit of accommodation per site regardless of the size of the site or demand in the area. Therefore, the logic behind the article is essentially flawed.

What we are trying to do is cater to a very small part of the market. The demand is small but there is still demand. If over the next 12 months, 1% of new builds in this country provide for co-living, it will take between 200 and 250 people. That will free up potentially 100 to 125 apartments in the same area. That is how we provide choice. That is how we make sure the various needs in society can be met. At present, people do not have choice. That is the real crisis we are trying to address. We are not trying to replace the traditional apartment; nothing like it. We are trying to add an additional layer to what is being built because there is a demand for it. We know this from the other cities we are trying to emulate. I refer to their stable rental sectors, cost rental models and more compact growth. It is a matter of making sure we are cognisant of our climate obligations in terms of how and where we build. Co-living can be part of that, in terms of shared accommodation and what some people might choose to live in.

People know that property developers are not social workers and are only concerned about profit. They will go for whatever yields the most profit. Property developers are business people. They want to get the best possible return for themselves and their shareholders and that is a logic with which the Minister agrees. The Minister is leaving housing in the hands of private developers and private landlords by not intervening and he has handed them a gift on a plate.

People who live in Dublin and other cities will have noticed that student apartments are flying up. Of course we need student apartments but we also need homes for families and single people. Student apartments are proliferating and using up vital inner city land because of the yields and returns available. The project in Dún Laoghaire is a perfect example of fitting five units, rather than a two-bedroom unit, into a space.

These co-living units are not very different from bedsits. They have bathrooms but very few kitchens, no balconies or parking and crucially there is no obligation to provide the legally mandated 10% social housing that other developers must provide.

Co-living is an attempt to provide a choice and an option for people. The bedrooms are en suite and larger than traditional bedrooms. These units are not for families nor are they social housing. There is no evidence that this sector is exploding in the way the Deputy thinks it is. It is approximately 14 months since these guidelines were published.

Student accommodation has exploded.

I am talking about co-living which is the question the Deputy asked. There is no evidence that co-living has exploded in the way she says it has over the past 14 months. Of course, because it is new, we will keep it under review and ensure the guidelines are robustly enforced. The fact of the matter is that we must provide homes for everyone. Student accommodation takes pressure off other parts of the rental sector. If four students are in student accommodation instead of sharing a house, that house is available for a family to rent or for adults to share.

In the course of 2019, between 21,000 and 23,000 houses will be built and other homes will be added to the housing stock through the finishing of unfinished housing estates and other houses being taken out of long-term vacancy. Through providing homes, apartments, student accommodation and approximately 1% of co-living units, we will take the pressure off many families and individuals who do not have the kinds of choices they need in order to find a house they can afford to live in which is close to their work or family. The central objective under Rebuilding Ireland is to increase supply and, as that happens, to increase choice.