Apple’s big expansion plan for its European headquarters could be affected by a shortage of housing in the city of Cork.
Employees at Apple and other Cork-based technology companies told Business Insider that they and many of their colleagues are struggling to find places to live.
Apple currently employs around 5,500 people across Ireland, with the vast majority of those spread across two Cork locations. But Apple CEO Tim Cook announced in November that he wants to employ an additional 1,000 workers at Apple’s main base in Cork by spring 2017, adding that Apple will construct a new building at its Hollyhill site to help accommodate them. Prior to Cook’s announcement, Apple reportedly grew the size of its Cork workforce by 25% in the space of 12 months.
An Apple employee, who could not reveal his name or job position, told Business Insider that Apple can’t expect to keep growing its operations in Cork — a city home to roughly 120,000 people — unless more houses are built.
The same employee said that, unlike the Irish government, Apple “definitely has the resources” to build houses for its staff.
The Apple Cork Ireland Facebook group also highlights the problem, with a number of staff searching for accommodation in the city through the social media platform and asking colleagues if they have a spare room to let out. Last October, Apple employee Rónán Carroll wrote: “Finding places/rooms are pretty hard at the moment so teaming up seems like a good option.”
An employee at local technology firm Voxpro, which employs hundreds of people in Cork who provide customer care for Airbnb, Google, and other companies, said: “Housing is a huge issue in Cork this year. Companies like Apple, Amazon, and Voxpro are expanding and employing a lot more people. Most of them are young and a high percentage of them come from abroad. Everyone needs accommodation and the demand exceeds supply.”
Will Brady, a lecturer in planning and sustainable development at University College Cork (UCC), told Business Insider that nobody has recognised a “fairly major problem” in the Cork housing market.
“In urban areas we are experiencing severe housing shortages,” he said, pointing to Dublin, Cork, and Galway as examples. “House price increases have been reasonably modest but rent increases in Cork and Galway have been quite significant”
Brady highlighted that a number of local businesses, including Voxpro, have expressed concerns about the city’s housing problem but said Apple is yet to say anything publicly on the matter.
“Very few houses have been built in Ireland’s urban areas over the last five years but there have been lots of large scale job announcements in Cork,” he added.
Apple employees aren’t the only people working for a large technology company in Cork that need accommodation. US storage giant EMC employs nearly 2,000 people in the city, while other firms such as IBM and Dell also have a presence.
The housing issue expands beyond Cork too, with property in Dublin, where Google has its European headquarters, particularly hard to come by and even more expensive than Cork, according to Brady.
In the lead up to the economic crash in 2007, property developers looked to profit by snapping up cheap plots of land in Ireland and building on them. However, many of these houses were built in rural areas, meaning the amount of housing on offer in Ireland’s largest cities has stayed relatively flat.
“The housing schemes were fuelled by speculation,” said Brady, adding that developers often took unsophisticated approaches. “People like ourselves were pointing out the demand is going to be in urban areas. When the economy starts to recover the cities matter more. They attract the big employers.”
More Apple offices and more remote workers
Building proposals outlined on planning permission documents attached to fences and poles around Apple’s Hollyhill campus indicate Apple’s intent to provide more office space for its increasing Cork workforce.
Interestingly, a second Apple employee in Ireland, who also wishes to be kept anonymous but was happy for us to say he works in Apple’s support team, told Business Insider that many of Apple’s new hires in the country won’t use Apple offices at all.
The source claims that an increasing number of Apple’s customer services staff in Ireland, of which there are thought to be around 3,000, are working from home full-time now. They added that it’s easy for Apple workers who spend most of their day on the phone to customers to work remotely.
“It’s not easy to get something that’s satisfactory [in Cork],” said the source in regards to the city’s housing situation.
“I never come to Cork as I have no reason to be at the office. All of Apple will be work at home at some point. I think that’s the target. All the new hires tend to work from home now.”
Moving to Cork
A large proportion of Apple’s multilingual customer service employees in Ireland come from places like France, Spain, and Germany. When Cook visited Cork last November, he is reported to have said the office had employees from over 80 countries.
Moving to Cork can be difficult for those people that don’t speak English as their first language or know the Irish housing market, said the source, who spent six months trying to find a house in the city themselves at one point.
When asked whether Apple should build housing for its workforce, as our other Apple source suggested, they said: “Apple could pay its staff less and give them accommodation if it wanted to do that. But you’re just creating more and more work for you as an organisation, more areas where you can have issues with staff and handling, more areas which you can be sued on for having inappropriate housing standards. You’re creating what is a minor benefit for you to attract employees.
“It could provide some temporarily relief for new hires that they really, really want. But Apple is a company that’s so big there’s no one in the world that they really, really need.”
Apple’s growing European headquarters in Hollyhill spans several buildings dating back to when Apple first moved to Ireland in 1980. In addition to a large customer services team, the headquarters also has an iMac manufacturing facility, as well people working in retail store logistics.
Apple’s second Cork office at Lavitts Quay is thought to be home to Apple’s more senior customer services staff, as well as people working in finance, tax, and operations. It’s understood that many of Apple’s most senior employees in Europe are based in London.
If Apple was to build houses for its staff in Cork then it wouldn’t be the first time the company has funded the construction of residential properties in the city.
In 2014, Apple spent €5 million (£3.8 million) on a housing complex within a few hundred metres of its main entrance for a group of travellers, after it took over of the land they were settling on. The complex was finished last June.
Apple is also hoping to build an €850 million (£641 million) data centre just outside a small town called Athenry, County Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. The data centre is currently being held up by local protestors.
Apple declined to comment on this story.
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