CHI Grows its reach through Rental Co-operatives #Celebrating50

December 11, 2023

With the implementation of CAS to fund mortgages and the shifting interest from private home-ownership to social rented co-operatives, CHI began to grow its rental co-operative model. During the 1980s and 1990s, over 20 co-operative housing projects were completed by CHI. A range of sites were provided by local authorities in Dublin for this purpose, leading to 276 houses and apartments at seven locations throughout the 1990s. During the 1980s and 1990s, over 20 co-operative housing projects were completed by CHI.

“We wanted to be more innovative with space at Newcourt.” – Gerry Cahill

One such scheme was Newcourt on Newstreet, Dublin 8. The scheme was designed by architect Gerry Cahill. Gerry created several schemes for CHI in inner city Dublin during the 1990s. The architect spent much of the 1970s in the UK working with housing associations. He moved back to Dublin for a research fellowship with UCD which resulted in a publication called ‘Back to the Street’. During this time, Gerry based himself in the Liberties and worked with people active in social housing. It was through this work that Gerry met Bernard Thompson, then CEO of CHI (NABCo) and later began to design apartments in Dublin for the organisation during the 1990s.

“There was a huge amount of dereliction around Dublin at that time. The Quays were a disgrace and had been allowed go to rack and ruin. Road widening proposals were going on all the time to encourage people to commute. At one time, there was a proposal for a 60ft carriageway on the Quays, which would have taken out all the buildings. There was also a proposal to run a motorway under the archway at Christchurch Cathedral. Can you imagine that?” says Gerry. As part of these road widening schemes, New Street was turned into a dual carriageway. The redbrick terrace houses that lined the west side of the street were removed during the process, something which Gerry wanted to recapture when designing Newcourt.

“Part of the vision for Newcourt was to reinstate the street line that had been taken away. The building became a new brick line to the street as it replaced the old, terraced houses here,” he says. During the design of Newcourt, consideration was given to boundaries between private and public space, for example, an inner pavement acts as an additional threshold between the front doors of the scheme and the public footpath. The idea of community privacy within the bustling city was central to the ethos of the design, “We set up a pavement within a pavement, so it meant that people can actually come out of their houses and feel safe and the concrete boxes and shrubs here act as a sound barrier. We used redbrick to mimic the original surroundings and bring back the brick edge of the city,” he says. A huge opening through a gateway allows for the underground flow of the Poddle river. The position of the river placed additional constraints on the design of the building, something which Gerry is delighted to have both honoured and overcome in his design.

The initial design included blue lights which hang from the rooftop of the gateway to indicate the underground pathway of the river. The scheme granted greater utilisation of space compared to the traditional building plots of Dublin’s residential building, says Gerry, “Dublin is mostly made of building plots 6-10 metres wide and 14 metres long with front and back gardens, and that limits the amount of accommodation to two and three bed houses.” The apartment building is comprised of open terraces and walkways filled with natural light as opposed to the inner corridors of many apartment buildings, many of which often lack windows and receive no daylight. “We wanted to be more innovative with space at Newcourt combining circulating systems with decks access and cater for different types of people and lifestyles with one, two and three-bed apartments. I wanted New Street to have its own community and community privacy. That’s why there’s a community garden out the back, just for residents, there is a communal meeting room, and we built a communal launderette and washing line,” says Gerry.

“I was very concerned about security of tenure.” Kim Olin has been a CHI Member and resident in Newcourt since the 2000s

Kim was renting in Ranelagh when her landlord told her that they were selling up. One of her friends suggested that she put her name on the housing list, she says, “Another friend of mine said, ‘get on the NABCo list as well’ and I’d never heard of NABCo, but I rang Dublin City Council and asked to be on that list too.” Kim was on the housing list for a year when she got notice from CHI (NABCo) that there was a suitable apartment for her in Westcourt. “I met Housing Officer John O’Connor. I went with one of my neighbours who lived next to me in Ranelagh in one of those old Georgian basements, we went in to see the new place and I said I’d take it”.

Much like today, housing lists were long during the 2000s, and Kim was concerned about her security of tenure. Moving into Westcourt meant that Kim’s rent would be affordable, and her home could not be sold, unlike her private rented home in Ranelagh. “I was very concerned about security of tenure. Twenty-four years ago, there was a long housing list as there is today. It was great to get that security.” “Eventually I transferred from Westcourt here to Newcourt ten years ago. It was a mixture of every type of person when I moved into Newcourt, young families, young single people, like it is now. Location-wise I couldn’t live any better, and one of my neighbours says the same. We have a great community; we live exactly where we want.” Kim has been a very active Member of CHI and has served time on the national board and as part of the Housing Services and Community Engagement Committee, helping to ensure that the voices of CHI Members are heard at every level of the organisation. Kim shares her home with Tintin, her pet of 13 years, “He was also a rescue dog, like my dog Sheeba before him. He was two when I got him. After the crash when everyone had lost their jobs, my friend met a man outside the dog pound who’d had to give away his dog because he’d lost everything and my friend said she’d take him, then she messaged me on Facebook asking me if I wanted the dog because I’d lost Sheeba two years before. I said, ‘No, no thank you very much.’ I had him by the weekend!” “Living in a co-operative we have a great support between neighbours and try to help out each other when possible and I hope that will never be lost!”

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