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Enda McGuane Making a Case for Co-Living on RTÉ Radio 1

Enda McGuane, MD of Winters Properties joined Miriam O Callaghan on RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss Co-Living and the controversial co-living development planned for Dun Laoghaire in Dublin. Broadcasted at 10:00, 31st July 2019, Solidarity People Before Profit TD for Dun Laoghaire Richard Boyd Barrett also shared his side of the debate. 

The five-storey housing block was approved by An Bord Pleanála, and is being developed by Bartra Capital Property Group. 

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The Discussion

Miriam O Callaghan: Well for some it’s a modern day tenement building but for others it’s a welcome addition to the disastrous housing market. We’re talking, of course, about the controversial co-living developments, after one such scheme was granted permission in Dun Laoghaire yesterday. Joining me now in studio is Richard Boyd Barrett, Solidarity People Before Profit TD for Dun Laoghaire and on the line Enda McGuane who is managing director of Winters Properties and you’re also a chartered surveyor, Enda. Thanks to you both for chatting to me this morning. First of all Richard Boyd Barrett, what exactly is your problem with this kind of development and why do you not want to see them grant planning permission. 

Richard Boyd Barrett: Because these are box rooms where the room, if you could even call it a room, is the same size, slightly smaller in fact, as a disability parking space. For that you’re going to pay €1,300 a month, that’s €15,000 a year for a box room, a sardine can, with a fold out bed. If you just think about it, €1,300 a month would get you, if there was any way affordable housing in this country which there should be and that’s what we actually need, would get you a mortgage for €250,000.

MOC: But does it help I suppose in the crisis we’re in RBB, and for instance the decision yesterday, it does require some form of cooking facilities in each room in the development. 

RBB: Because there was such outrage about this, they now put in a hob. Which actually I think, possibly, technically makes these box rooms bedsits which are supposed to be illegal and by the way, they are less than half the minimum required space for a studio apartment. So that’s what it’s really about – the previous planning permission for this site was for 60 apartments of mixed sizes, one, two three bedroom. Now they’ve managed to cram 208 on it and they’re going to probably double the rental income that they can get from that site. So that’s what it’s about – squeeze people into little tiny sardine cans make as much money as you can off the site and charge people an absolute fortune. 

MOC: Ok, Enda McGuane who’s on the line there, what do you make of these co-living developments.

Enda McGuane: Good morning Miriam and hi Richard. I suppose we need to put this into context in terms of the national context. Dublin city’s population by 2040 is forecast to grow by another 235,000-293,000 people over the next 20 years. As we sit here today, various experts will tell you that we need either 28,000-33,000 housing units of various sorts, both affordable, first time buyers, students etc, to begin to start addressing the housing crisis. And in reality, Goodbody recently predicted that we’ll only build 21,000 homes. So if you look at it in this context this is 204 bed-spaces which we would call student accommodation. It’s accommodation for 204 people. It’s targeted at a very specific niche. We often hear people discuss about European best practice in Vienna and various cities. These are used all over Europe in particular in city centre accommodation. Now they’re not targeted at everybody and they’re not supposed to be. We’re not going to see families or people living in this sort of accommodation. This is accommodation which is for young professionals who want to live in a certain way. 

MOC: Enda let me come in for a second, €1,300 a month you might get 16.5 square metres of space, no kitchen. I mean, does that make sense?

EMG: Let’s put it into context, what doesn’t make sense is that the rental market yesterday in Dun Laoghaire, the lowest 1-bed apartment was €1,700, not including your electricity, not including any fees and charges. This is €1,300 – it’s not for everybody but it includes all of your electricity and your broadband, gym membership. The other part for us to put into context and I suppose for me I find it a little bit irritating sometimes in a lot of the commentary in this – I’ve lived in this type of accommodation at a certain point and time in my life from the ages of 20-24 in far smaller room sizes than these. 

MOC: But did you pay that amount of money relatively?

EMG: Yeah we paid accommodation. I don’t remember what it was it was 20 years ago at this point, we paid in terms of to live in the accommodation, we paid for our food, we paid for all the upkeep of the property. I suppose the reality is whether we like it or not at this moment and time – I meet with foreign direct investment companies coming here looking to relocate to Ireland or tech companies scaling up on a daily basis and we meet with their staff, and you will get people from the ages of 28-54 they are coming to Ireland to work, to contribute to our economy and they are looking to live in the city centres. They find those city centres attractive it’s what brings them to Ireland as well as the job opportunity. 

RBB: Look, I walk up and down Dun Laoghaire main street most days and I could not literally walk ten metres without meeting somebody who’s in housing difficulty. That’s how bad the housing crisis is. It’s an absolute disaster. Precisely because of the shockingly high rents they are talking about and the failure to deliver public and affordable housing. But I can tell you there’s not a single one of the people, and they’re a wide variety of people who are working, who are families, individuals, and so on, who want to pay out €1,300 a month for a little tiny box room with a fold out bed. That’s not what they want. That’s not building a sustainable community in Dun Laoghaire. That site is really irritating for the people in the area because the site has been flipped from one developer to another for the last 15 years just sitting there when we’ve been screaming in the local community, been screaming saying could we not build some public and affordable housing on that site that people could actually afford to get families back into the town centre of Dun Laoghaire that would reinvigorate the town as a sustainable organic community when in fact the community is in fact being driven out because of the lack of affordable and public housing cleansed effectively from the area in a process of gentrification. This is going to do nothing to resolve this, all it’s going to do is make a shocking amount of money for a property developer. By the way, also this co-living thing gets you out of the 10% social housing element. One interesting sideline to this story, is that Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council asked as a condition for this permission that they would get some social housing off site, they didn’t want these boxes for social housing unsurprisingly, but they wanted some offsite and that was not even granted. So this is another way for developers to bypass even giving a small bit back to the country. 

EMG: There’s a couple of points Richard has just made there. The first thing is, Richard has strong opinions on this development. I suppose the reality is in the current crisis where we are building 21,000 units when we need over 33,000, why are we protesting against a niche property element? There’s land for over 20,000 properties zoned in the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area. There’s a significant number of properties in the vacant site register, with 5,300 apartments planned in the last couple of years. Why are we protesting about a niche development why are we not protesting about the other sites which aren’t being developed. And in terms of sustainability and affordable, the one thing we need to look at from long term development people have complained before in the past about developer led planning – we’re now looking at planning led development. The Ireland 2040 plan focuses on infill sites, it focuses on making our cities denser, and this is one element of that plan. Again, I’ll bring you back to the point: it is accommodation for 204 people, in the context of a shortfall of 33,000 housing units. 

RBB: First of all we are protesting about the other sites. I mean I’m absolutely infuriated that Cherry Wood, not a sod has been turned up in Cherry Wood, which is supposed to be the biggest residential development in the country because it’s been flipped from one developer to another, sold by NAMA, you name it and nothing actually happening there because the private sector can make more money flipping property and getting planning permissions that actually building houses that people can afford. And they’re saying  that even when they do build up there they’re going to be talking about apartments that are going to be in excess of €400,000 – totally unaffordable for people. So we’re protesting about that and many other sites, but precisely because this site is central in Dun Laoghaire it could be a site that could actually deliver for the actual housing needs of the area, which are not some fantastically group of hipsters that are going to come in from Google or whatever. As if by the way somebody working for Google getting €60-70,000 a year wants to come out and live in a box room in Dun Laoghaire, it’s preposterous. 

MOC: But Barter Capital, Richard, said on that yesterday that this reflects Ireland’s need to cater, I’m quoting them, ‘for changing living habits’. 

RBB: The problem we’re facing, and what rebuilding Ireland, and by the way the strategic housing development scheme that this was was fast track planning, was supposed to address: the housing crisis in this country. This does not address the housing crisis. It means a site that could have helped address the housing crisis is now just going to make money for a niche market.

MOC: What about that point Enda McGaune, that this site could have been used to ease the issues within the housing crisis and not have it for co-living? 

EMG: Again it’s back to the broader context of looking at viability and sustainable communities. So if you look at the cost of construction today. SESI did a report two years ago which would indicate that 43% of the cost of building an apartment is construction. The remainder is varying charges, levies, VAT, professional fees, and side purchase costs. So Richard is talking about the private sector and their approach – they will build what is viable. In the context of what is in demand by people out there in the marketplace, as I said it’s 204 units it is not a huge – 

RBB: Nobody is demanding these things, I’ve never heard anybody demand these things.

EMG: I think Richard in fairness you have a community that you represent

RBB: I represent the area.

EMG: I accept that Richard. And I have met with business across the country and people who work for those businesses who tell me that they come to Ireland, these are Irish people coming back home as well as international people, who want to work in our cities, who want to contribute to our economy and cannot get affordable accommodation. They deem this type of accommodation as acceptable for the year the two years they are on contract here. The other point about this accommodation is you are talking about sustainable communities – I don’t think sustainable communities are built by transient accommodation in housing estates which is where the current rental market has them. So you’re moving that population from those estates. You’re also releasing the pressure as I said to you. These are being priced at €1,300 – at the moment yesterday in that area as you know yourself it’s €1,700 for a 1-bed apartment.

MOC: Ok let me bring some reaction from our listeners. “Let’s call a spade a spade, co-living is hostel living, you get a room and share a kitchen. Far from a boutique.” Another Mary says “What a regress of step in Irish housing the government should reject this”. Liz says “Richard should read about Silicon Valley where graduates are fighting to get one of these communal living spaces there – it’s the future of student accommodation too.” I’ll bring you one more, Joan says “Miriam pie in the sky Mr. Boyd Barrett should come into the real world, many people had to live in small spaces as students and as workers” and I’ll bring you another one because they’re agreeing with you Richard, “I rarely agree with Richard Boyd Barrett but he’s dead right in this one, my daughter had a bigger student room in Hamburg two years ago for 300 a month. It’s greed, pure unadulterated greed. Why are we facilitating it?”

Richard Boyd Barrett, you are actually coming up with a petition against this development, what do you want to happen?

RBB: And more generally yeah, we’re saying that the strategic housing development fast track planning that has been given to developers is supposed to deliver affordable housing but it’s not, it’s actually being used by developers to exploit sites in this sort of way. So we’re saying that this whole scheme should be scrapped or at least it should be totally conditional on delivering affordable housing and real housing need. And we’re also saying that co-living should be effectively outlawed and government policy should shift toward delivering affordable and public housing based on real need out there.

MOC: Okay, Enda McGuane I’ll give you the final word. 

EMG: We need to look towards the future, we need to learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past. What we need to have is viable affordable housing which gives people a choice and gives them an opportunity to develop sustainable communities, whatever that interpretation of a community is, be it communal living and collective living like this or be it communities in estates, that’s the issue we need to address. 

MOC: Ok, Enda McGuane, Richard Boyd Barrett thanks so much for coming in. 

Read more about co-living here.