Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Questions (46, 90)

Thomas P. Broughan


46. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the expected rental price of the co-living accommodation units; the discussions that took place in relation to co-living accommodation proposals; if he arranged consultations on the proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23191/19]

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Eoin Ó Broin


90. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the protections he will put in place to prevent co-living accommodation developments from becoming high cost, low quality accommodation for low income families or the most socially disadvantaged. [23890/19]

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Oral answers (20 contributions) (Question to Housing)

The Minister and I are former Dublin City Council members. He might recall that when I led the Rainbow Civic Alliance on the council, we abolished bedsits for our senior citizens and prescribed a basic one-bedroom apartment. The Minister now seems to be rushing back to an even tinier concept of living with this co-living plan, which I think appeared in Rebuilding Ireland. What consultations took place on that? Where did this demand come from? Is it not simply Fine Gael kowtowing to developers?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 90 together.

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, to respond to the changing housing needs in light of demographics and the dynamics we are seeing in the urban employment market. An extensive public consultation process took place prior to finalisation of the guidelines during which 63 submissions were made to my Department, all of which are available on my Department’s website. My Department also hosted a consultative workshop prior to finalising the guidelines. I do not believe the Deputy made any submissions as part of that public consultation, which was very well flagged at the time because it was well publicised when it was first announced.

The updated guidelines set out the policy on the range of apartment types needed to meet the accommodation needs of a variety of household types and sizes. This includes the introduction of the shared accommodation or co-living format. This format comprises professionally managed rental accommodation where individual rooms are rented within an overall development that includes access to shared or communal facilities and amenities. Such developments are only appropriate where responding to an identified urban housing need at particular locations; they are not suitable for families and are not envisaged as an alternative or replacement to the more conventional apartment developments which are provided for elsewhere in those same guidelines.

In assessing proposals for Shared Accommodation, a planning authority must have regard to the need for such a type of accommodation in an area. Planning authorities must also strike a balance between the need for a particular form of accommodation and the need to avoid a proliferation of shared accommodation development to the detriment of the overall objective of providing quality urban apartment development as a viable long-term housing option. Furthermore, there is an obligation on the proposer of a shared accommodation scheme to demonstrate to the planning authority that their proposal is based on an actual accommodation need and to provide a satisfactory evidential base in that regard.

I cannot comment on the expected rental price of such developments as this is dependent on both the market generally as well as the location and accommodation specifics of individual projects. Do they have a gym or a movie room? I refer to those types of developments. Developments of this kind are not intended to provide State subsidised housing for individuals or families; they are designed to meet a particular demand which, although limited in scale, exists in the rental market.

While I am satisfied that the guidelines as issued are robust, given that they are relatively new and it is a new form of accommodation for this country, although not in other countries, my Department will monitor the emerging shared accommodation sector and may issue further additional technical updates to this document as appropriate.

This is again confusing and difficult to understand. I believe Niall Cussen drafted the specific planning policy requirements - Nos. 8 and 9. The Minister is talking about single shared accommodation of 12 sq. m, which would be smaller than his office, a double or twin accommodation of 18 sq. m - a parking space for a person with a disability is 17 sq. m - and bedrooms of 8 sq. m per person. He seems to be on a road to the capsule living one would find in Tokyo, Japan, at the rate he is going. Distinguished economists and students of the housing market such as Mel Reynolds have said that the fundamental reason for this is to enrich developers. Five co-living bedrooms can fit in a site the same size as a typical two-bedroom apartment. Is that not the fundamental reason for such development? There was demand in Dún Laoghaire, and there is massive demand in my constituency, for houses and apartments, which the Minister is not meeting. Perhaps only 22,000 units will come on-stream this year, with only 4,000 or 5,000 social housing units. He is not meeting the demand that exists. Why on earth are we going down this road?

I call the Minister to respond.

The British housing market has been characterised as shoebox living. He is becoming an advocate for such shoeboxes.

The Minister has one minute to respond.

I thank the Deputy for the supplementary question. When these guidelines were first proposed, he did not make any observations. Was he not paying attention?

I made observations.

I will check the website and look for the Deputy’s submission.

I made observations and sought houses and apartments.

No. That is not the same, I am afraid. The Deputy is a little loose in-----

I made submissions to Rebuilding Ireland. We all did.

The Deputy will have a second opportunity to come in.

What we are trying to do with co-living is to bring another choice into our housing market for young professionals who have seen this type of accommodation solution in other cities.

We want to ensure there is enough choice in order that people can have a choice of where they live. They do not have that at the moment. That is the real difficulty that many people face in the housing sector today. There is no choice for how they want to live, where they want to live. I admit there is not huge demand for it but there is some demand. If we can accommodate 250 people in new co-living homes over the next 12 months, that will free up other accommodation, houses or apartments that people can rent. Between 21,000 and 23,000 new homes will be built this year and perhaps 1% or not even that might be for co-living. It is meeting a small demand, which will take pressure off other parts of the market. We must look at this in totality. We are not trying to replace social housing with this or to bring back bedsits, it is just bringing an option that we know has worked abroad into the Irish housing market.

The Minister appears to be offering this to millennial tech workers and he suggests this is an extra provision. There is an enormous need for one-bedroom apartments of a decent size, two-bedroom apartments and so on which the Minister is not addressing. If there is such a demand from the tech sector, why does the Minister not encourage the information technology corporations to buy land and build their own employee accommodation? Why should we take accommodation out of the general mix to meet that demand? Across my constituency and others, more and more applications are coming forward for studio-type bedsit developments. In the past the Minister and I, on Dublin City Council, would have opposed this and would have requested that everyone would have at least a decent one-bedroom apartment for a single citizen living alone. Now we seem to be going in the direction of shoeboxes. That will be another legacy of this Government.

A primary element in all our plans to build more homes is ensuring that we improve quality, standards and design. The Deputy can visit any social housing home or apartment and he will see the best type of home that can be built in this country today, as it should be. That was not always the way in the past. It might cost a bit extra and it might take more time in the planning but it is important when the State provides housing for those who need the help the most, that it be done to the best quality possible. We are not talking about social housing here or housing for families but about providing an option. The State is not offering or building co-living homes.

Do the young people not deserve better?

This is providing an option. If people want to avail of that option, they may do so.

These are 12 sq. m.

These were introduced a year ago and we have not seen a huge explosion in co-living, because there will not be so significant a demand for it that it will take over the market, but there will be some. This will provide for that demand and will take pressure off other parts of the housing sector. We must recognise that there are so many more individuals who are looking for their own accommodation. If they want to live in their own apartment we need to build that single-bedroom apartment or studio for them. If they want to live in a shared arrangement, to build a two- or three-bed co-living option or something beyond that based on six to eight people sharing, as per the guidelines published recently, it is their choice.

Question No. 47 answered with Question No. 40.