Expensive Dublin: ‘The real problem is artists are badly paid’

Analysis: Co-op movement could provide housing option for the creative class

Singer David Kitt said he was leaving Dublin because of unaffordable rents. Photograph: Michael Burnell/Redferns

Singer David Kitt said he was leaving Dublin because of unaffordable rents. Photograph: Michael Burnell/Redferns

 

This week singer David Kitt announced he was leaving Dublin, forced out by rents too high for a musician’s meagre means. But back in the boom, when the capital was at its most rapacious, Dublin City Council was full of enthusiasm for fostering and retaining the creative community in situ.

The 2005-2011 city development plan acknowledged that these people, by the nature of their endeavours, were often short on cash, and decided it had a responsibility to help them stay in the city.

“Emerging artists in particular often experience difficulty securing both living accommodation and working space when competing on the open market. It is recognised that Dublin City Council has a responsibility for direct provision of infrastructure to meet their needs,” the plan said.

It was a stated policy that the council would facilitate the “provision of space for artists to live, work and exhibit” by “establishing live/work units” for artists .

By the time the next development plan rolled around the enthusiasm for giving the creative classes a leg up had dampened.

“The provision of affordable living and working environments for artists, particularly emerging artists to enable the production of art remains a challenge,” the 2011-2016 plan said.

If we are building or providing houses for artists, why not for other professions?

The policy was “to encourage and facilitate the provision of affordable live-work units and studios/workspaces for artists as part of larger mixed-use developments” – private developments, that is: gone was any talk of “direct provision”.

The most recent development plan, to govern the city from 2016 to 2022, simply restates the 2011 policy. The troubles of artists and their ability to afford a garret of their own, had clearly slipped off the agenda.

Live-work spaces

But what of those earlier plans? Has the council managed to provide any of these live-work spaces?

The answer is yes – four of them. Two cottages in Albert College Park near DCU, another in the grounds of St Patrick’s Cathedral, and another in Temple Bar, each of which artists can rent for up to a year.

The scheme, city arts officer Ray Yeates admits, is oversubscribed.“The scale of demand is enormous. We are inundated with applications every year.”

The council has tried another tack. In 2012 it put forward a plan to match owners of vacant properties with artists , but this fell foul of building regulations, Mr Yeats said. “There have been attempts to use vacant spaces, but invariably they didn’t meet the fire regulations.”

But there was also he said a question of fairness that arises if housing is being provided for artists.

“If we are building or providing houses for artists, why not for other professions? Why not for nurses or gardaí or teachers? It is a conundrum – how do we place the artist in the social housing model, are they people who need social supports as opposed to funding support for their work?”

The problem is not necessarily that Dublin is particularly expensive, it’s that artists are particularly badly paid

The slim prospect of answers to these questions any time soon has spurred one group to take matters into their own hands.

ABCD – Artists’ Building Co-operative Dublin – is a group of 23 artists who want to build their own apartments with studio spaces. Plans have been drawn up by Dominic Stevens of JFOC Architects, and ABCD is hoping to secure a small site from Dublin City Council to build not-for-profit housing.

“We’re hoping for a site, which doesn’t suit the council for social housing, we can build on, using our own resources,” co-op secretary David Kavanagh said.

The main problem with accessing housing for artists is the unpredictability of income, he said. “I disagree slightly with David Kitt. The problem is not necessarily that Dublin is particularly expensive, it’s that artists are particularly badly paid.”

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