The only scandalous thing about the recent spate of so-called ‘co-living’ housing proposals in Dublin — a city currently crucified by a housing shortage while in the midst of a huge economic boom — is the price the developers want to charge those who would live there.
Co-living, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a notion imported from other high-rent, high housing demand cities such as New York and London. It’s based on the premise that a co-living tenant will have a smallish ensuite studio bedroom all to themselves, but will be have shared usage of facilities such as a kitchen, a laundry and common living and leisure areas.
Plans for such developments which have been welcomed by housing minister Eoghan Murphy have been slammed by some TDs, and the housing charity Threshold has weighed in, calling such developments “21st century bedsits with a glossy makeover”.
But it’s not like glossy bedsits would necessarily be a bad solution to the housing crisis for a certain sector of the population.
The co-living developments proposed for Dublin are not aimed at families. They’re not supposed to be permanent homes for single people or childless couples.
They’re part of a solution to house a segment of the population that needs short-term housing, on rolling six- or 12- month contracts. These people want painless ‘lock-up-and-leave’ accommodation where they don’t have to worry about fixing gutters or mowing the lawn, and if it’s near the tech firms in the city, where they may work, and all bills and amenities are included, then all the better.
And the high prices that the developers plan on charging for this swish, all-mod-cons, but ultimately small dwelling — up to €1,500 per month, by some reports — reflects what that well-off, time-poor segment will bear.
Will building those living spaces change the plight of the homeless family or single mother? Not directly — and it’s utterly true that the State needs to do more to ensure that affordable housing is built for everyone.
However, Ireland has a huge problem with its housing stock, and with the cultural mindset that prioritises three-bed semi-detached houses in suburbs or commuter towns over more innovative and unusual places and ways to live.
Not everyone needs or wants a three-bed home. The single man-or-woman about town may not. The young worker who’d rather be in the thick of things in town, than stuck in Nappy Valley with young families, doesn’t. Older empty nesters whose children have flown and who personally want to downsize don’t.
Students certainly don’t. The bizarre Irish practice of renting family homes near universities to groups of students — which is unsuitable for them and potentially a nightmare for neighbours — is much rarer elsewhere. In the UK, on the continent and, especially, in colleges in the States, this cohort lives in dorms or simple student residences with individual or shared rooms and common areas.
Co-living needs to be appreciated for what it is — a housing fix for one particular type of housing need. Simpler, cheaper and less ‘glossy’ co-living blocks could house undergraduates or post-graduate students; or a wider range of people working in Ireland short-term to earn money or progress careers before returning home. Taking all the people who don’t need the three-bed semi out of those homes, and providing them with housing that actually suits their needs, would free up traditional houses for those who want to put down roots and establish permanent residences and grow families. ‘Home’ means different things to us at different stages of our lives — we can’t all be shoehorned in to cookie-cutter suburbia.