In March of last year the ESRI published its report, Housing and Ireland’s Older Population, which investigated if ‘the housing shortage in Ireland could be alleviated by incentivising residential mobility among older people who remain in houses that exceed their current requirements’. It found that there was scope to improve housing supply by incentivising older people to downsize but noted the potential for social isolation arising from relocation.
In response to these findings, Michelle Moore founded the Abhaile Project as a not-for-profit enterprise which offers an alternative solution to the problem. Working with architect, Dermot Bannon, she developed a proposal to reconfigure family-sized homes, in a way that can evolve to meet the homeowner’s needs, whilst simultaneously creating a new rental unit within the house.
I was introduced to Michelle through my own research on the untapped potential of existing housing stock in Dublin’s older suburbs. A core part of my practice over the last seven years has been the remodelling, refurbishment and extension of housing from the 1930s to the 1960s. These houses have proven to be robust and flexible and are generally laid out in well planned estates with high quality open space; established local amenities and social infrastructure; and good transport links.
Recent census data tells us that the older suburbs of Dublin are characterised by ageing populations and declining population numbers. There is also a higher than average level of owner occupiers with no mortgage: a potentially mobile population in houses unencumbered with debt or tenancies. Earlier this year, I joined forces with Michelle and Dermot to develop the proposal in more detail following the announcement of the Homes for Smart Ageing Universal Design Challenge by the Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Damien English, TD. We established the following design criteria:
- Future proofed and suitable for older dweller or those with mobility issues incorporating Universal Design Principles;
- Incorporate some shared areas to promote interaction and reduce isolation;
- A lifetime home design that can revert to family home format with ease; and
- Compliant with all relevant planning, building control and building regulations.
An overriding principle of the design is to ensure that the home is adaptable to the future needs of the homeowner and that this is done in an unobtrusive manner. By looking at the design challenge through the lens of older people we can ensure that the design will work for everyone.
The ground floor of the house is remodelled to create a self-sufficient unit for the homeowner. A new accessible toilet with level access shower is provided and the front reception room is converted to a bedroom. The rear reception room becomes the main living space. A new door creates a single entry point from the shared circulation space to allow the homeowner privacy and security. Existing doors are widened to improve access for people with limited mobility. A range of universal design upgrades may be applied depending on the needs of the homeowner. The first floor of the home is also remodelled to create a suite of living spaces for single occupancy rental. The existing bathroom and rear bedroom remain unchanged. The two bedrooms to the front of the house are converted to a kitchen and living/dining room respectively with a new opening in the wall between the two. A new porch is added to the front of the house to increase the size of the shared space at ground level. The porch also provides a sheltered area immediately outside the door and may include a new seating area to create the opportunity for social interaction with the wider neighbourhood.
These measures comprise the minimum intervention required to fulfil the design criteria but may be supplemented by a range of other measures including External Works; Additional Energy Upgrades; Additional Acoustic Upgrades; and Additional Decorative Upgrades. The minimum retrofit cost will be in the region of €45,000. This is in the context of a €140,000 average construction cost for 1-bed apartments (excluding ancillary costs, levies, professional fees etc.)
The Abhaile model is predicated on each participating homeowner agreeing to become part of a cooperative scheme that includes the provision of ancillary services. These services are necessary to ensure that:
- we are creating a high, quality, well-run and controlled housing scheme that does not give rise to unintended consequences in the housing market;
- and the administrative burden and responsibility does not fall on the older homeowner and their families as this would be a barrier to participation in the scheme.
The value proposition of Abhaile to Irish society is twofold:
- Enabling older homeowners to remain in their homes and communities by future-proofing the home and affording a better standard of living in old age, whilst promoting regeneration and intergenerational living in neighbourhoods that are in decline; and
- Generating new affordable single occupancy rental capacity from our existing housing stock. These rental units would have the advantage of being in established communities which can provide access to jobs, transport and public services.
The success of the Abhaile Project in the Homes for Smart Ageing Universal Design Challenge, along with other anticipated funding, allows us to proceed immediately with a fully funded pilot programme for two homeowners in North Dublin. We hope to carry out these pilot projects towards the end of this year and they will be essential in creating a strong reference point for homeowners to get a clear vision of what an Abhaile home will look like and how the scheme will operate.
In the coming year, we intend to roll out the scheme across Dublin and subsequently nationwide.
The Abhaile Project team collecting the HSAUDC 2017 trophy at Dublin Castle, 28th June. (l-r) Olivia Golden, Ger Craddock (CEUD), Ciarán Ferrie, Michelle Moore, Dermot Bannon, Minister Damien English, T.D., Austin McCoy, Cllr Alison Gilliland, Geraldine Hegarty, Sam Whelan-Curtin.