Illegal evictions, overcrowding, rough sleeping, and co-living are but a few of the cruel manifestations of Dublin’s housing crisis that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus. While lockdown may have shed some light on them, these issues have been a scourge on the city long before, propelled by an apathetic government, private developers and vulture funds. Tightly bound up with the housing crisis is the process of gentrification that has been reshaping Dublin over the past number of years, and which continues with no indication of slowing down. One such area is the Liberties, situated in Dublin 8, where residents have seen rapid increases in property development facilitating the construction of hotels, co-living spaces and luxury student accommodations.
“From Thomas street, up to the Coombe, across to Donore avenue and down to Pimlico, the Liberties are the heart of Dublin,” says a local resident and housing activist, who for the purposes of this article, wishes to remain anonymous. He continues to say that the heritage of the area is being continually erased “all in the name of gentrification.” The interviewee in question was involved in an anti co-living campaign last year which emerged after a London based company, The Collective, bought a large plot of land in the Fumbally area, and sought to build a 144 bed hotel and 69 room co-living complex. This would cost an estimated €1300 a month for a box room, while sharing a kitchen and toilet facilities with many others. The interviewee continues, calling this proposal “the newest scheme to scam the rights of renters and future generations. But residents in the Liberties are not as foolish as property developers make them out to be, as they seek to build modernised tenement buildings on the space where Dublin’s poorest generation once lived.”
Community activists and local councillors objected strongly to the proposed development, with the campaign ongoing, and the planning permission decision being appealed to An Bord Pleanála. The campaign against co-living in the Fumbally area has extended to calling for a ban on co-living in Dublin as a whole. With Richard Barrett’s Bartra Property already having secured two co-living complexes for Dun Laoghaire and Rathmines, and more proposed in Ballsbridge and Harolds’ Cross, proposed co-living complexes have caused outrage among local communities, particularly given the ongoing pandemic. “It is not reasonable to expect people to live in accommodation where it is impossible to self-isolate.”
“Gentrification, and the developers who drive it, are also responsible for eroding local history and culture of various areas across the country.”
Gentrification, and the developers who drive it, are also responsible for eroding local history and culture of various areas across the country. “The housing crisis comes from the government’s total lack of will to build public housing, which leads to public land being sold to private developers who want to cash in and bleed your bank account dry,” the resident continues. “In the past five years, Dublin communities have been paved over with office blocks, Airbnbs, hotels and student accommodation, giving heartless landlords an excuse to drive up the rents and block the sun from tenant’s eyes, as they have another gaudy hotel built in front of their home. The generations raised in the area are slowly being forced out, as the community, along with its heritage, is being sold to the highest bidder. As a result, critical facilities and green spaces are being ignored, playgrounds and football pitches are being replaced with seven story hotels.”
“Horse culture plays a strong role in the Liberties, dating from the opening of the Guinness factory in 1759, where horses were used in production, with many of the workers living in the area.”
Another local resident discussed how gentrification in the area has hit young people and urban horse culture specifically. “Local schoolchildren will soon see the loss of their football pitch at the Michael Malinn flats, replaced by two hotels.” He continues “as anyone who has spent even a small amount of time here would notice, horse culture is huge for young people in this area. It is part of the history and heritage of the Liberties, and hotels are due to replace the site of many horse sheds here soon, which is very sad to see.” The developers in question are Harry Crosbie, who received permission from Dublin City Council in 2019 to build the eight-storey hotel Vicar Street Hotel destroying two horse yards in the process, and Midsal Homes Ltd, granted permission earlier this year to build another eight-storey hotel on the same site. Although the Yard is an Architectural Conservation Area according to DCC, between these two hotels, the majority of Molyneux Yard will likely be destroyed. Horse culture plays a strong role in the Liberties, dating from the opening of the Guinness factory in 1759, where horses were used in production, with many of the workers living in the area.
Aaron Nolan has lived in the Liberties for two years, and is a member of Community Action Tenants Union (CATU) Liberties-Rialto. When asked about both the short and long term consequences of gentrification in the area, Nolan cites Airbnb draining the supply of housing, and rental prices being driven up. While he points out that Covid-19 and its effect on tourism present an opportunity for us to demand empty properties be returned to the long term letting market. “I think the wheels of developing have been in motion at a ferocious speed for a while, and the changes have caught people off guard. Perhaps the impending economic crash will bring that to a halt and give the people in this area pause for thought, to reflect on the consequences of these changes in the community.”
“Unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow.”
In April of this year, novelist Arundhati Roy counselled that “the pandemic is a portal”. “Unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow. Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. In the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”
The first wave of lockdown restrictions in March of this year saw the government implementing a ban on evictions and a rent freeze, along with the need to limit close contacts exposing the unsafe nature of co-living. Literally overnight, what once was deemed unconstitutional and inherent, was entirely possible when the political will existed. The gentrification of areas such as the Liberties serve only to further expose the brutal reality of the Dublin housing market, rather than contribute meaningfully to solving it. The erosion of community spaces and local heritage continues to be seen only as collateral damage and not as long-lasting and damaging consequences of gentrification. However, community organisation, as supported by the interviewees above, is cause for hope and can serve as a way to break with the past, and not only imagine something anew, but to build it.