A housing charity believes retrofitting office blocks for social housing is a real prospect for the future as the world of work adapts to the impact of Covid-19.
With companies accelerating plans for employees to work from home in response to public health guidelines, office space may be of less significance. Google’s decision not to continue their office expansion in the Dublin docklands is a prime example of this new trend as companies reassess their operation requirements.
Tuath Housing has said the move to home office working during the pandemic has caused it to rethink how it uses office space and that other businesses may follow suit.
”It’s changed our thinking and we’re only a small company and I’m sure it's changed the thinking of many others," said Sean O’Connor, the charity's CEO.
Mr O'Connor said they encountered no issues working remotely during the lockdown while providing services to tenants of their housing company and have no plans to return to their offices as before.
"We see that as the future really. We’ll keep offices but we won’t go back to people exclusively working from the office because we know it will be a mix of people working from home,” said Mr O'Connor.
This change has made the housing charity all the more excited about two of its latest projects that have just moved onsite and are slated to finish in late 2021. Two office retrofits to provide social housing, one in Dublin and one in Cork, mark a new departure for the company.
Agreed prior to the pandemic, the outbreak of the coronavirus and the changes in working life have added to the project's potential according to Mr O'Connor. “This is a new departure for us. Big office blocks like this. This is new," he said.
Tuath intends to build 84 social housing units with Dublin City council at the Plaza building in Park West business park having purchased the vacant office building from Harcourt Developments.
The second project, a retrofit of an office block at Springville House on Blackrock Road in Co Cork will provide 35 homes for social tenants looking to downsize. 31 apartments will be built in the existing structure along with four bungalows on the grounds.
Mr O'Connor thinks projects like this will become more common and of strategic importance to meet housing demands in the future.
“We see this as possibly becoming increasingly important particularly if employers decide offices are not as important as they were prior to the pandemic,” he said.
"I wouldn’t want to be too dramatic about it. There will be plenty of people when this pandemic is over, people forget quickly, many people will be back on the commute, back in the offices. But many employers, and ourselves as employers we won’t be going back to that, I think there will be a happy medium when staff will be in the office a couple of days a week. As long as employers can have a bit of trust with their employees and have the equipment with the proper technology.”
Tuath has built 850 homes for social housing so far this year and plans to construct 1,800 homes next year including 450 homes in Cork. Affordability is the main goal for the housing charity with average rents priced at €52 a week for their 6,000 homes provided with local housing authorities across the country. ”What the pandemic has brought home to everyone is the importance of home, a secure and safe place," said Mr O'Connor.
He said rejuvenation projects like Springville House in Cork and the Plaza building in Dublin have the potential to meet this need. Suggested as a solution before the pandemic, Covid-19 has only enhanced their prospects. “One thing is for sure, there will be more of this,” said Mr O'Connor.