The coliving trend has set off a contentious debate in Ireland demonstrating the growing pressure on the market and the government to provide affordable accommodation solutions that the Irish people need and actually want.
While the idea of coliving isn’t new, its role in the property market has sparked an interesting debate in Ireland. Coliving was first introduced by the government as a potential housing model in the autumn of 2017 and by the spring of the next year, Irish Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy revealed amendments to the existing design standards for new apartments to include the ‘shared accommodation sector’.
Coliving accommodations consist of a series of residential units, usually of single or double occupancy, with a common shared area for living and kitchen facilities. These residences are similar to student dorm accommodations, with private bedrooms and a common area, but these coliving facilities would provide additional recreation and leisure amenities to attract young adults seeking to experience a shared community environment.
Communal living has existed in several forms in the past including monasteries, ecovillages, communes and housing cooperatives where people have made a conscious choice to live together. This conscious choice may be due to a shared philosophy or set of lifestyle choices, but, as with the current manifestation of the model, it can also be a way to pay less while maintaining a higher standard of living than one may have been able to achieve alone.
The Rising Coliving Trend
The rebranding of the concept of communal living into this new coliving model caters heavily to the millennial lifestyle and technology industry. Coliving has been compared to the co-working trend currently sweeping the office space sector. New coliving complexes being built in US cities often include furnished spaces with short-term lease requirements. Rent includes utility and Wi-Fi costs in addition to other possible amenities like cleaning services and social events. There are currently just over 3000 coliving occupancies in the US, primarily in major cities, but with growing demand reports estimate those figures will more than triple in the next few years. Major providers include WeLive (a division of WeWork), Common, Ollie, Quarters and X Social Communities.
In the face of the persistent housing shortage across Ireland, it appears that any choice as far as housing goes remains limited in terms of both sales and rental. While statistic released by the CSO clearly demonstrate a growing need for single-occupancy homes, especially when it comes to social housing accommodations, the market has not delivered these types of homes to the housing stock.
The government has made legislative changes in response to the need for single occupancy housing including the addition of coliving requirements to its design standards, but it is the public that has proven resistance to the idea of one-bedroom homes. It appears that the idea of coliving may be too much for the Irish people to accept.
Uproar over Coliving in Ireland
Housing Minister Murphy set off a firestorm of criticism after making remarks that young people should be “excited” to pay less rent for less space. He later tried to defend his previous statement by saying that rooms in proposed coliving buildings are “larger than rooms in traditional house shares and offer young workers another option”.
Bruno Haid, CEO of one of the world’s best known shared-living companies – Roam, recently criticized the implementation of coliving in Ireland saying that the new standards favour developers needs over those of prospective tenants, stating that the rooms are too small and the facilities inadequate.
Echoing Haid’s concerns about the size of coliving bedrooms in building schemes submitted to planners, David Browne, president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, argued that anything under 25-30 sqm would be too small. Proposed shared accommodation plans submitted by Bartra Capital Property contains rooms as small as 16.25 sqm. Browne cautioned, “We must be very careful to provide bedrooms of an adequate size for someone to live in for an adequate period.”
Housing Solutions vs Housing Alternatives
Some in the housing development sector have proposed a return to cohousing rather than embracing the new form of coliving. This model differs in that design decisions and management is resident-led, allowing people to choose the sacrifices and compromises they are willing to accept rather than having them forced upon them without having a choice in the matter.
While it would be ideal to allow market forces to answer the question over the ideal execution of the model and the role of coliving in the residential property market, the housing crisis currently has the market with its back to the wall. Developers and contractors are left with the challenge of trying to find the balance between catering to trends and determining the optimum use for development land.
What is clear is that the Irish people need affordable housing options now and the outrage that has erupted over the coliving debate is proof of how high the stakes are.