The current public health crisis highlights everything that is wrong with the idea of co-living, says Muireann Grogan, a resident of Fumbally Lane in the Liberties.
She wonders how residents of co-living complexes in cities like London and New York are surviving the Covid-19 crisis. “Imagine living that way now,” she says. “You would go mad in a tiny little cube.”
Late last year, Grogan was among those locals to rally others in objecting to a proposal for a hotel and co-living development beside her house.
But on 30 March Dublin City Council planners granted permission for the complex.
The plans from TC Fumbally Properties Ltd show a 144-bed hotel, a 69-room co-living complex, co-working or artists studios, and an events space.
It would be run by The Collective, which manages co-living complexes in London and New York – and offer residents an opportunity to join their “global living movement”, its website says.
Grogan, and councillors for the area, now say they will work together to appeal that decision, adding to their objections the question of whether, in light of the Covid-19 crisis, the development would be advisable or even viable.
The Collective didn’t respond to a number of queries including how they are coping with Covid-19 and whether co-living remains viable going forward.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says the planning application was assessed within the framework of the city development plan and the relevant ministerial guidelines.
They found that the development would not create an over-concentration of shared living, he says.
Right now, the corner of Blackpitts, Fumbally Lane and New Row South is vacant, surrounded by a glossy black hoarding.
In its planning application TC Fumbally Properties Ltd set out the concept of shared living, with images of how communal areas look in complexes abroad.
Its Collective Fumbally in Dublin, once built, would include a gym, a library, a cinema space and wellness suites, as well as shared kitchens, dining areas and lounges – although it calls the lounges “informal breakout spaces”.
In photos, the co-living element looks like a swish hotel – but councillors and TDs say that area residents don’t want this type of development.
“There is nothing about this proposal that is good for the city or the community within which it is located,” wrote People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith in the objection she lodged to the planning application.
That was one of 24 objections lodged with the council. Other objectors were the Tenters Residents Association, Sinn Fein TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh and all five local councillors for the area who worked together on their rebuttal.
The councillors cited a number of issues, including an over-concentration of transient, short-term housing in Dublin 8. They called for “real homes” to be built on that site instead.
The lived experience of residents is that there is already a severe over-concentration of transient short-term accommodation in the area, says People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh.
“They have wrecked that community,” she says. “It is clear there is some kind of a plan to turn Dublin 8 into a student, tourist, transient hub of some description.”
“I’ve never seen or approved a plan for that in the council,” MacVeigh says.
Councillors are not objecting to students, says Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh of Sinn Féin, but much of the student housing in the area is unaffordable and then gets rented out as short-term lets to tourists in the summer.
And there are already lots of hotels in the area, she says. Neither of those make a stable sustainable community, she says.
However, the planners were satisfied that this development wouldn’t result in an overconcentration of shared living because there are no other similar developments within one kilometre of the site, according to a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
The nearest co-living development is 1.6 km from the site, in Rathmines, he said.
“The concerns regarding a perceived saturation of short term accommodation were clearly examined and the development was seen to be in accordance with the Ministerial Guidelines that introduced the concept of shared living developments in Ireland,” he said.
Another major issue is parking, says Ní Dhálaigh. The plans don’t include any. “The area is already bursting at the seams with parking issues,” she says.
The developers argued that there are lots of other hotels in the area that don’t have designated parking. There are multi-storey car parks nearby and there is on-street parking too, they said.
The plans do include bicycle parking, and there are GoCars available nearby, they said, plus they’ll make it clear to possible tenants that there’s no parking.
Others objected to the amount of kitchen space. There are two shared kitchens in the plans.
At first, Dublin City Council planners said the developer should provide more kitchen space.
TC Fumbally Developments Ltd didn’t alter its plans and add more kitchen space. Its communal space exceeds standards when kitchens, lounges and dining areas are all included, it said.
Residents were united in opposition to these plans but their concerns were ignored, says Ní Dhálaigh, the Sinn Féin councillor.
That raises questions as to whether the public consultation was genuine or if it was just a “box-ticking exercise”, says Ní Dhálaigh.
People will feel that it is pointless engaging with the planning process if they are not really being listened to, she says. “I despair of the whole process.”
A spokesperson for the council said that the application went through the normal five-week period for public participation. Twenty-four objections were received and “the issues raised in these objections were addressed in the planner’s report”, he says.
Grogan, the Fumbally Lane resident, plans to continue to engage with the process. She says she is gearing up to appeal the council’s approval of the project. She may well cite public-health concerns as she makes her case, she says.
“Pandemics are not a question of if, they are a question of when, so places like that shouldn’t really be built in the first place,” she says.
You can’t socially distance in shared living, whether it be co-living or homeless accommodation, says MacVeigh, the People Before Profit councillor. “This housing situation is exacerbating a health crisis.”
The Collective hasn’t yet responded to queries about how it is managing Covid-19 in its complexes in other cities.
MacVeigh says it is difficult to organise an appeal, and meetings for that, given current restrictions on movement and gatherings.
She says she has written to the law agent, a legal advisor within Dublin City Council, to ask whether the current crisis means the time frame for an appeal will be extended.
Her understanding of the emergency legislation is that everything should be on hold until after the restrictions are lifted, she says.
Grogan says she wonders if the development will even go ahead, as demand for hotel rooms is bound to plummet, she says.
Local Green Party TD Patrick Costello, says the current development guidelines are eroding basic living standards by reducing living space.
In the past, there were epidemics like cholera, TB and polio and they gave rise to the modern-day regulations around living-space requirements, says Costello. “A lot of these housing guidelines were put in place for public health reasons.”