Housing in the Tech City: Challenges for housing provision and addressing homelessness

 Dr Carla Kayanan, University College Dublin School of Geography


June 17th, 2021

Housing provision is one of the greatest challenges facing Ireland right now, particularly in our capital city. According to the Central Statistics Office, the average cost of a house in Dublin in the past year was €462,098 - or over nine times the average full-time salary. The latest Residential Property Price Index shows house prices here are now increasing at a rate of 3.7% - the fastest rate of growth in two years.

Of even more concern are the 8,082 adults and children who were homeless in the week of the 19th - 25th of April 2021 across Ireland. The number of homeless families has increased by 232% since July 2014 when the monthly figures were first published. 

Housing exclusion is a complex issue that requires a multidisciplinary approach. Dr Carla Kayanan of UCD School of Geography recently received a €11,056 grant from the Irish Research Council to explore one aspect of the problem. Her project, Housing in the Tech City: Challenges for housing provision and addressing homelessness will compare the development trajectories of two neighbourhoods in Dublin - the Docklands and the Liberties. Her policy partner on the project is national housing charity, Threshold. 

“We are trying to see if there’s a connection between tech sector development in each of those neighbourhoods and issues with housing affordability, accessibility and homelessness.”

The two areas were chosen deliberately. In April it was announced that the Digital Hub, founded in the Liberties in 2003 and home to 31 companies, will be shut down and redeveloped for social and affordable housing by the Land Development Agency (LDA). Meanwhile development in Dublin’s so-called “Silicon Docks” is, depending on your viewpoint, either a potent symbol of Ireland’s economic recovery or displacing families and diluting diversity. 

To get a clearer picture of if and how the tech industry impacts housing, Carla is carrying out a spatial analysis of each area - and her research assistant Robin Ferguson will help with this part of the project. Using publicly available and purchased datasets, Carla is mapping out their development trajectories over time. 

She is "also conducting qualitative interviews with tech sector executives, planning and development executives, as well as individuals in the communities to really understand everyone’s needs within that space. Then we will triangulate those needs and see, ‘Where is the disconnect? Where is the overlap? Where might conversations lead to better plans for these particular neighbourhoods?’”

It is a “confusing landscape” because even defining what constitutes as tech work is more tricky now that the pandemic has moved many companies online. Carla’s work will reassess that definition and also challenge assumptions and stereotypes about the tech sector, such as the pervasive complaint that multinationals providing accommodation for high paid tech workers are pricing out others within the community. 

“Not everybody in a tech company makes the same salary. So when we lump in these individuals together we accuse some of the lower income tech workers of also creating the problem, and they might not be. They might be commuting from really far out, just to get to their job and they might actually be the ones who need some policy attention.”

Silicon Valley is “the main template” for “building an innovation ecosystem” around the tech sector. But as San Francisco’s housing market is accused of catering mostly to its high paid tech execs at the expense of everyone else, Dublin is also gaining an unhelpful reputation as one of Europe’s most costly cities. 

“Dublin is not alone; many cities across the globe have seen a move towards urbanisation and a lot of change. Whereas many of the tech companies or science and research companies used to locate outside of the city core, now that development is moving inside the city. The city is a contested space with a wide variety of livelihoods, so that stands to impact various livelihoods at different scales and in different ways.”

Carla is interested in the built environment and how it impacts on people’s interactions with that space. 

“I am someone who is very interested in spatial justice and injustice. Spatial justice looks at how space is developed, managed and used, who is making those decisions, who are the decisions targeted at and who is losing out.”

She will examine the contributing factors to spatial injustice in the Liberties and the Docklands, gather empirically supported statements and explore how policy might better serve the wider communities going forward. The work will carry through the summer and she hopes to publish her findings in December.

Carla did her doctoral thesis on innovation districts, asking stakeholders who were building them about their aims, ambitions and motivations. Now she will explore similar themes in these two Dublin neighbourhoods.  

“The tech sector is one area that I can isolate to examine and get a complete picture of the situation.”

She will contextualise her findings with those of other housing scholars looking at contributing factors to Dublin’s housing crisis. 

“I want to put concrete numbers to assumptions that are made about housing and homelessness in the tech city. There might be no significant connection but if there is a connection, what is it, and can we put some empirical fact behind it? From there, I want to look at those facts and figures to make better policies and better communities.”


This article was brought to you by UCD Institute for Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary collaboration.