Overconcentration of Build-to-Rent

Fri, May 21, 2021

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Neasa spoke on the overconcentration of build-to-rent in our inner city areas and called on the Department of Housing to commence a review of what is happening with build-to-rent and the impact it is having on the market in inner city areas.


I wish to discuss build-to-rent construction. I will begin by being honest in saying I do not like it. I do not like it as a model and it did not exist when I was working in architecture. I do not like the fact there is a two-tier standard of housing that differentiates between what you might need when you are renting and what you might need when you own a building. I do not like the lower standards it engenders and that apply to build-to-rent versus owner-occupier units, and I do not like that Irish residents will be paying rent in perpetuity, mainly to foreign funds, for the pleasure of living in what I consider to be substandard housing, especially since the rents are often unsustainable at present.

However, even if I did like build-to-rent, I would still be concerned. The increasing prevalence of any typology in a particular area is a problem, especially in Dublin. It is an emerging issue in my constituency of Dublin Central. The Dublin Inquirer recently published an article which stated that between 2018 and 2020 as much as 70% of housing units granted permission in Dublin City Council were build-to-rent. My own review of strategic housing developments and their applications to An Bord Pleanála in the past year in the Dublin City Council area indicates a similar number, with approximately 65% of units being build-to-rent. In my constituency there is a single forthcoming development in Clonliffe College of more than 1,600 units, and 1,300 of those will be build-to-rent. That is the size of a small town.

There will always be a need for rental accommodation. People will need it for the short term, the medium term, the long term or for a particular life stage. They might need it for a certain type of employment or for financial reasons. They might need it just because some people like to rent and do not want to buy. We must have rental housing stock, but we do not need low-quality housing stock. Build-to-rent units have no requirement for cross-ventilation, minimal requirements for storage and minimal requirements for community amenity. They have a 5% variation, which means that there can be units that are smaller than the minimum requirement. They have relaxed fire safety regulations so there are no lobbies to kitchens and there are lower ceiling heights. There is a variation for sprinklers. That does not engender confidence in build-to-rent as a typology.

I am not sure that, when the then Minister with responsibility for housing introduced build-to-rent guidelines, he envisaged the level of uptake we see at present. I hear a great deal about social mix from other parties when we are developing sites. I believe we need a balance with build-to-rent developments. We limit the amount of social and affordable housing in developments. We should now, at a minimum, have a percentage cap on the build-to-rent element of any site, if not an outright ban. That balance is needed for sustainable communities so they do not become dominated by transient housing models. Those housing models are not transient because of the people in them, but because people do not want to live in them for long as they are not up to standard.

In November last year, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage produced a welcome report on co-living developments. On foot of that report, the Minister took the view that the number of applications and permissions was too high and decided, effectively, to ban co-living. That was the correct decision in my view. I ask that the Department commence a similar review of what is happening with build-to-rent and the impact it is having on the market in inner city areas. We must make a conscious decision about the appropriate levels and locations for this type of development because every community deserves to have quality housing.