There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of build-to-rent (BTR) apartment schemes. Cost rental, the new State-subsidised rental system, is based on similar principles; both are designed to provide housing that remains in the rental market, with homes that cannot be sold off piecemeal to owner occupiers. However, while cost-rental housing is proving extremely popular, BTR has become the totem for all that’s wrong with the housing system.
When BTR was first proposed in mid-2015 by Dublin City Council officials preparing the 2016-2022 development plan, there was little kerfuffle, with more attention focused on other proposals such as increasing height and a reduction in apartment sizes in general.
Council officials presented it as fulfilling a particular need for purpose-built rental homes in specific parts of the city, such as the docklands. They could be smaller than general apartments, and with up to 50 per cent studios, but would therefore likely maintain lower rents than general apartments and be likely used by tenants seeking relatively short-term accommodation in the city.
It is tweaks by successive housing ministers to that original concept that have dragged sentiment around BTR to a point from which it may not recover. The changes, at national level, meant local authorities could no longer limit BTR schemes to specific areas, and applicants could apply for as many studio apartments as they liked. With BTR being the cheapest to build, in Dublin city at least, it displaced applications for build-to-sell apartment blocks almost entirely.
It also became bound up with the maligned Strategic Housing Development (SHD) system which saw all larger apartment plans submitted directly to An Bord Pleanála, bypassing the local authority planning process. The SHD system is coming to an end this month and applications for large residential developments, including BTR, will once again be submitted to local authorities. Dublin City Council is developing new BTR rules, which are closer to its original concept, so perhaps there is hope for the rehabilitation of BTR.