The joy of downsizing: 'It’s my little palace'

The Housing for All ‘rightsizing’ approach has been pioneered by Cork City Council through schemes like the award-winning 30-unit Arus Mhuire development in Blackrock
The joy of downsizing: 'It’s my little palace'

Jim Hourihan at Arus Mhuire, Skehard Road, Blackrock, Cork, after 'rightsizing' last year from a three-bed house in Mayfield. "I’ve no regrets.” Photo: Larry Cummins.

It was a big decision to leave his home of 50 years and move to a small apartment but ‘rightsizer’ Jim Hourihan couldn’t be happier.

“It’s my little palace. If you offered me any other place now, I wouldn’t take it - unless I win the Euromillions. Only then, I might consider it,” he says.

Jim, 77, is one of a growing number of older people who have decided to ‘downsize’ from a large home to become a local authority tenant in a smaller home in a deal that frees up larger properties for social housing.

Originally called downsizing and now rebranded in Housing for All as ‘rightsizing’, the approach has been pioneered by Cork City Council through schemes like the award-winning 30-unit Arus Mhuire development in Blackrock, on the southside of the city, that Jim now calls home.

The gated scheme off the Skehard Road comprises a mix of one and two-bed units, is owned by the council and managed by the Tuath housing association. 

Arus Mhuire, a gated scheme off the Skehard Road in Cork that has a mix of one and two-bed units, is owned by the council and managed by the Tuath housing association. Photo: Larry Cummins
Arus Mhuire, a gated scheme off the Skehard Road in Cork that has a mix of one and two-bed units, is owned by the council and managed by the Tuath housing association. Photo: Larry Cummins

Many more such schemes are planned under the government’s new housing strategy, with a pledge to develop a national policy on rightsizing and to explore options to support and incentivise rightsizing on a voluntary basis.

The scheme allows people aged 60 or over who own their private house, or who are existing local authority tenants, to apply to their local authority for a tenancy in one of its downsizing developments. The local authority can also buy private homes, at a discounted rate linked to the age of the homeowners, and then offer the homeowners a tenancy in a downsizing scheme.

Different financial arrangements apply depending on the circumstances but in all cases, the local authority gets the larger house, and the applicant gets a tenancy in a downsizing scheme. Fifty years ago, Jim moved into what was then a new three-bed terraced council house in Avonmore Park in Mayfield, raised his family there, and ended up owning the house.

But once his two children were raised, and following a divorce, Jim, a former cameraman with the Chorus tv channel and who freelanced on the Hot Country music tv channel, said he felt it was “a fright to be living alone in a three-bed house when a family could use it”. He explored the downsizing option and approached City Hall, where housing officer, Pascal O’Leary, talked him through his options.

Jim was offered a tenancy in a one-bedroom apartment in Arus Mhuire and the council acquired his property in Avonmore Park. “Many of my old neighbours from Avonmore Park had moved on themselves, and it was sad to be leaving my neighbourhood. One neighbour even asked me to consider not moving,” Jim said.

“But once I decided, that was it. So I got a skip, a large skip and made the move - there’s an amount of stuff that comes out of a house after 50 years.”

He finally moved into his new home last July. “It was worth the wait,” he says.

“It’s close to local shops, I can walk to Mahon Point, and it’s a few minutes from the South Ring Road.

Jim Hourihan is delighted that a young family has moved into his three-bed house in Mayfield. "I hope they will be there for 50 years.” Photo: Larry Cummins
Jim Hourihan is delighted that a young family has moved into his three-bed house in Mayfield. "I hope they will be there for 50 years.” Photo: Larry Cummins

“And I’m nearly on the Blackrock Road - I was joking with friends on the northside that I’d need elocution lessons. But seriously, it’s really ideal and everyone here is lovely.”

“It’s a one-bedroom unit, with a kitchen/dining area, a fabulous wet room and I’ve a lovely balcony. I’ve no regrets.”

And he’s heard from his former neighbours that a young family recently moved into his old house.

“That makes me feel good because it was a happy house, a lucky house, so I’m delighted for them. I hope they will be there for 50 years,” he says.

He has encouraged other people in a similar situation to consider downsizing - or rightsizing.

Work is well advanced on the construction of a 35-unit downsizing scheme in the former office block, Springville House, on the Blackrock Road, and work is about to begin on 25-units on the South Douglas Road and on 24-units in a scheme at Hawkes Road in Bishopstown.

Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central, Thomas Gould, has called for a public education programme on the downsizing/rightsizing scheme to make more people aware of it.

“If there are elderly people struggling to maintain three or four-bedroom houses, then we can offer them support and at the same time, provide a home to a family who desperately needs it,” he said.

“I’m regularly being contacted by elderly people who are extremely interested in downsizing and looking for support in how to access the scheme. When I contact the council, the staff operating the scheme couldn’t be more helpful.

“A simple information campaign could let people know about the options out there.”

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