Council wants ‘mom and pop developers’ to build own homes

Owner-occupiers with a commitment to city living will be invited to tender for plots

Dublin City Council has decided to test a house-build idea on a plot on Fishamble Street. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Dublin City Council has decided to test a house-build idea on a plot on Fishamble Street. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien


Dublin City Council is seeking “mom and pop developers” to build their own homes on council-owned land in the centre of the city.

The council has identified vacant sites it owns, not suitable for social housing schemes but ideal for small-scale housing, and wants to give a chance to groups, family or friends, to come together and pitch to build their own apartments.

The concept it calls “Dublin House” could provide a solution to a number of vacant council-owned plots, but also provide a new development model for Dublin, city architect Ali Grehan explains.

“There are three main objectives, one is an architectural idea about developing the city in vertical plots as would have been the pattern in the past, as apartments or houses, rather than the big horizontal developments we would have seen in recent years.”

The second imperative is economic. “If the large developer isn’t there or there aren’t as many big developers willing to take on the challenge of a large site, if we break up sites into smaller plots, we open up the opportunity to smaller developers.”

The third pillar is social she says. “We don’t seem to have enough diversity in the city centre. People who make a choice of where to live by and large tend to raise children in the suburbs. One reason may be the lack of available attractive accommodation in the city.”

‘Family living’
Apartments built in recent decades were “not conducive to family living”, she said. Despite the introduction of regulations on size and space in the latter years of the building boom, apartment living never really caught on with families. People might have been reluctant to put down roots in the city because of the transient nature of apartment living .

“We would like to see if people would be attracted to living in the city centre if we give them the opportunity to design their own apartment, in a small plot with people they know.”

The council has decided to test the idea on a plot on Fishamble Street, just a few doors from what is believed to be the city’s oldest house.

The plot can accommodate six storeys and about 400sq m of living space. A group could pitch to develop the site as one house, but it is more likely it will be developed as three or four apartments.

“We have a maybe romantic notion of an extended family – parents with children in a two-storey home, the grandparents in a single-storey apartment, and another duplex at the top for younger family members. Or it might be two separate families, or a group of friends.”

To qualify, groups must be owner-occupiers not investors. They would need to form a legal entity such as a co-operative and must be able to demonstrate ability to secure a mortgage. Preference will be given to family-sized households as “there are already enough apartments for single people”, Ms Grehan says.

Architectural back-up
Applicants do not need to come to the council with an architect in tow. “Dublin City Council will be happy to assist in terms of professional services.”

The council hopes to have a tender package available in the autumn so it can open applications, and hopes to have chosen a group by the end of the year, with construction likely to start in 2015. If the pilot is successful it could be used on a number of sites of varying sizes throughout the city. “Constructing 60 units has to be one big developer, break it into small plots and it suddenly becomes a viable option for what I’d call a mom and pop developer.”