A new studio at €2,120 per month? Welcome to Dublin’s new rental hell – The Irish Times
For a few years, I have been tracking rents for new studios in Dublin. The “studios”, as they are listed, have changed. When legislation banning studios was introduced in 2009 and came into force in 2013, they fell off the radar. Once upon a time, studio apartments were basic, often turned grimy, and were certainly small. But they were also cheap. Today, they have returned as high-end profit vehicles for owners, whether corporate or individual. On the contrary, there is probably more money to be made per square meter in “studios” than in most other properties.
I’ve seen the rent skyrocket for quasi one-bedroom houses on Dublin’s North Circular Road, from €700 a month to €800, to €1,000, to €1,500. Now it’s €2,120 for a “studio” in Cabra, Dublin 7, in a new development, Hamilton Gardens. This particular apartment is not too shabby. There is a sofa, a coffee table, a neat kitchen and a double bed. Obviously, paying €2,120 for a ‘studio’ is ridiculous, but what’s more worrying is what happens in older buildings.
In 2015, Alan Kelly, then housing minister, said that reducing the size of flats by 27% – his pro-developer pitch with new guidelines – would make homes “more affordable”. This certainly made them more affordable for developers, considering the additional profits they could later derive from the developments. Kelly said smaller apartments would not reduce living standards. He claimed that these smaller accommodations would be inexpensive. The market, you see.
“A studio is a one-room unit and that will be reflected in the price,” Kelly said at the time, defending the downgrade move. “The living shoebox of the past will not return.” He was wrong. Very bad. At the time, many experts expressed serious concerns about the shrinking space in which people were meant to live. It is important to note that these guidelines apply to new construction. As far as existing buildings go, it looks like you can get away with anything.
I recently came across a “studio” in Dublin 8 rented at €550 per week. Yes, a week. This is what not so long ago one could expect to pay per month for such a small place. It is much smaller than Cabra’s new build, about the size of a hotel room. That’s €28,600 a year to live in a box. What is going on?
Returning to the debate around Kelly’s guidelines in 2015, I was struck by housing professor Lorcan Sirr’s remarks at the time: “You don’t live in 50m² – you exist”. Later, a successor to Kelly as housing minister, Eoghan Murphy, championed paltry 16m² co-living spaces, calling them “very trendy”. It’s like a boutique hotel, he says, as if the house were to embody the type of ephemeral temporality of a mini-break.
This remark is infamous, and further highlights the idiocy at the heart of the Fine Gael housing disaster. This guff has given landlords and developers an insidious license to reinvent housing as something impermanent, a place not to live, but to float or languish for a moment.
One thing these new beds have in common is an almost identical aesthetic. With Cohabitation mired in bad press, it seems owners and developers have sought to segment its concept and sprinkle it throughout existing buildings. When Murphy’s stupid cohousing plans had to be reversed, the cohousing vibe flourished elsewhere, in the corners of period buildings, in the white elephants of unaffordable purpose-built student accommodation, in former cookie-cutter modernized studios in the plains of Dublin 7, Dublin 8 and Dublin 1.
In these places, the character must be erased so as not to tell a story. A sense of place must be rinsed away until what emerges from the white walls is what Kyle Chayka has called “AirSpace” – “a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality” – the triumph of the generic, the homogeneous . That’s the Airbnb aesthetic – after all, one of their main headquarters is in the Irish capital, and the proliferation of Airbnb in Dublin has done untold damage to the rental market. As Chayka wrote in his famous article in The Verge in 2016“The interchangeability, incessant movement and symbolic void that were once the hallmark of hotels and airports, qualities that led the French anthropologist Marc Augé to define them in 1991 as ‘non-places’, had infiltrated in the rest of life.”
On the rental sites, you will find new beds for leases of two weeks to three months, as well as for one year. It seems that instead of new short-term rental regulations returning accommodation to the long-term rental market at a fair price, a premium is still being charged.
So here it is: €2,200 per month for a studio – sorry, not a studio, we got rid of that. This is another thing. A new grimness pretending to be cute. A nice holding pen. An Instagram cell.
Expecting people to pay over two thousand dollars a month for a shoebox is frankly offensive. Is it any wonder that a kind of social depression hangs over the city of Dublin? Is it any surprise that people are so angry, so deflated, so overwhelmed? What can the government expect if not rage when people are so rushed, so belittled and so restricted, the walls closing in on their quality of life?