I welcome the opportunity to open this important and timely debate on social housing supply and in particular I will focus my remarks on homelessness and the Government's firm ambition to eliminate long-term homelessness and rough sleeping by 2016. Deputies do not need to be reminded of the human and personal tragedy that the threat or reality of homelessness can trigger in a person's life. Homelessness is a destructive social condition that can wreak havoc on human dignity and well-being. As a social condition, it requires a social response from Government, from the voluntary sector and from citizens. Homelessness is an affront to every value that we assign to the concept of citizenship. In a real republic, there is an onus on us to ensure all citizens have a place they can call home - that is the goal of the Government's policy in this area. I am strongly focused on ensuring we fulfil that commitment.
In February 2013, I published the Government's homelessness policy statement in which the Government's aim to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016 was outlined. The statement emphasises a housing-led approach which is about accessing permanent housing as the primary response to all forms of homelessness. The availability and supply of secure, affordable and adequate housing is essential in ensuring sustainable tenancies and ending long-term homelessness. Past policy on homelessness was driven by short-term measures and an overwhelming emphasis on emergency accommodation.
It is widely accepted that housing-led approaches offer the most positive outcomes for those experiencing homelessness. In the past two years in Dublin, 1,500 people have moved from homeless services to independent living, with necessary supports. This is the type of housing-led policy I want to see at the heart of homeless services.
When I published the Government's homelessness policy statement, I also established a homelessness oversight group for the purposes of reviewing the progress of the approach being advocated in the statement, identifying obstacles and proposing solutions. The group recently submitted its first report to me and a copy is available on my Department's website. On 25 February, the Government approved the establishment of a homelessness policy implementation team and an implementation unit. The team is tasked with implementing the homelessness oversight group's first report. This will include the preparation and publication of a structured, practical plan to make the transition from a shelter-led to a sustainable housing-led response to homelessness and to achieve the 2016 goals for homelessness. This practically focused delivery plan will secure a ring-fenced supply of accommodation to house homeless households within the next three years and mobilise the necessary supports. It will contain actions that will be direct, immediate and solutions-based.
The implementation team is representative of the key State agencies dealing with homelessness, housing and related services because the solutions to homelessness do not solely reside in my Department. The team is being led by an official from my Department and includes a senior official from the Department of Social Protection and the HSE as well as the managers of Dublin city and Monaghan county councils representing local authorities. The team will report on this plan to the Cabinet committee on social policy in April 2014 and quarterly thereafter.
There is strong engagement at Cabinet level on the Government's homelessness policy. I acknowledge the supportive voices in the House and the voluntary sector for a housing-led approach. Critical to the success of the Government's plan is the securing of a stream of appropriate accommodation in order that people can move on from emergency or temporary accommodation. For too long, an out of sight, out of mind attitude was deemed acceptable in homelessness policy, with people spending many years in hostel or bed and breakfast-type accommodation. A housing-led approach is radically different. International evidence points to its high success rate and it can make the difference in the lives of hundreds of our citizens who are currently without homes.
Increasing both public and private housing supply is a critical issue for the Government. In the coming weeks, the Government will agree and publish its construction strategy, which will facilitate an uptake in development and has the potential to create thousands of jobs. While no one wishes to return to the boom-bust cycle that inflicted so much damage on our economy and society, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Especially in key urban areas, we are simply not building enough private or social homes to meet demand. I want to see a situation develop whereby housing supply closely matches our increasing population and rate of household formation. I do not want the property sector to become another casino as it was in the past, but I want a thriving housing sector that serves its primary purpose of providing affordable housing for families.
The most recent data on the number of households qualified for housing support underpin the need for flexible and diverse approaches to be taken to increase the level of social housing supply. Homeless households featured in these data. There is no single solution to supply and my priority is to use all avenues available to me to respond to this housing need. More than €500 million in funding is being made available through my Department in 2014 across a range of housing programmes. I expect that in the region of 5,000 new social housing units will be provided this year. These will be delivered through a range of mechanisms, including continued investment in leasing and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, the completion of existing capital programmes, mortgage to rent arrangements and the continued transfer of NAMA units.
As part of the public capital investment in housing, the coming 18 months will see in excess of €200 million being invested to expand and enhance our housing stock. Investment in regeneration and unfinished estates will total €80 million this year and additional measures include a new €68 million local authority mainstream building programme that I announced yesterday; an additional €15 million investment that will bring more than 500 long-term vacant local authority housing units back into use; a new two-year capital investment in housing for people with a disability, the elderly and people without homes, which will see some €35 million invested this year and next; investment in partnership with the not-for-profit housing sector to expand the number of social units available; and a €30 million investment in improving the energy efficiency of local authority homes, thereby reducing energy bills for thousands of families and supporting green energy jobs. Yesterday, I was in Darndale to announce the €68 million programme when a woman told me how much her fuel bills had been reduced by thanks to the insulation programme, which we started last year. I hope that it will make a major difference to families.
There are two important strands to this investment programme. The first is to increase the supply of new social homes. The second is to ensure every available appropriate unit that exists is transformed into a family home. With supply at record low levels, the second strand is important in addressing the immediate problem of supply, particularly for social housing. Given that the scope for Exchequer-funded large-scale capital building programmes is still limited, the not-for-profit housing sector must play a key role in the delivery of social housing. Approved housing bodies have a record of steady achievement over the past 20 years or so and greater use must be made of that sector's skills and expertise. In particular, the capacity of the sector to attract additional external financial investment will be important. It is actively engaging with the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, and my Department in exploring new ventures for this sector that I hope to see progress this year.
My Department, the Housing Agency and NAMA continue to work together with housing authorities and approved housing bodies towards identifying suitable NAMA housing units and bringing them into social housing use. As I mentioned during Question Time, by the end of December 2013, 596 units had been completed or contracted under this process.
There is a need for continued innovation to accelerate the transfer of homeless people from inappropriate and expensive emergency accommodation into more appropriate and sustainable housing and to identify the barriers and solutions to accessing a supply of appropriate and adequate housing. During 2014, I will seek to maximise the supply of housing for homeless households. It is largely within the various social housing delivery mechanisms that we must find the adequate supply of housing to make a housing-led approach to homelessness a reality.
Traditionally, it has been difficult to quantify the number of homeless persons on an ongoing basis. This is in part a consequence of the volatility within this cohort of housing need. When the homelessness policy statement was published, I announced a set of indicators to be used to demonstrate the dynamics of homelessness as it is addressed. These indicators will give a clearer picture of homelessness and, in quantifying its ongoing extent, will support the introduction of realistic and practical solutions for individuals. It is not just a case of having figures for the sake of it. The pathway accommodation and support system, PASS, was extended in 2013 and is operational nationwide. It will assist housing authorities in reporting on these indicators and 2014 will be the first year for which PASS will produce composite national data on homelessness. These reports will be published on my Department's website as soon as they are available.
People become homeless for a variety of reasons and, accordingly, a variety of responses are required. Dublin City Council recently released figures from the November 2013 count of rough sleepers, which confirmed a minimum of 139 rough sleepers across the Dublin region on a given night. This is unacceptable. It is an increase on the number during the previous April and is a matter of concern. The increasing number of rough sleepers in Dublin reflects the gravity of the challenge facing the Government, the voluntary sector and other agencies in tackling the homelessness problem. Rough sleeping is its most disturbing manifestation.
By the end of 2013, some 4,613 unique individuals used homeless emergency accommodation services in the Dublin region. This compared with 4,837 in 2012. The number of new presentations of homeless persons in Dublin averaged at 5.4 per day in 2013. The daily average in 2012 was 6.8. Dublin City Council has indicated that the fall in the number of new service users in 2013 was not as a result of decreased demand, but rather a slowing down in the number of people moving out of services into tenancies, thus reducing the number of beds available for new service users.
Despite the significant achievement in assisting 1,500 people to move from homeless services, there is an increase in the numbers presenting as homeless and, worryingly, an increase in the number of families presenting. This is an urgent issue, particularly in the Dublin region. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the most common reason for this increase is rent arrears for families residing in private rented accommodation. Families are served with notices to quit and I understand that they leave the accommodation immediately and present to homeless services.
Prevention measures are essential to ensure families and individuals do not become homeless. Dublin City Council is planning to launch a prevention campaign in the coming weeks. Measures must be put in place to ensure we know in advance if there is a danger of a family or individual becoming homeless and in order that we can intervene at that stage.
I am examining all sources of supply held publicly, privately or by NAMA which can be utilised to provide adequate emergency and, more importantly, stable long-term accommodation in the Dublin region and elsewhere. Securing supply will reduce our reliance on expensive and often inappropriate emergency accommodation and give people security and stability. I do not underestimate the challenge of sourcing supply given the lack of new building over the past five to six years, but I am determined to examine every available option to tackle the scandal of homelessness. Approximately one in five households in the country is renting accommodation in the private sector, which is the biggest share of the housing market since the 1950s. There is evidence of rents rising far in excess of the rate of inflation, particularly in cities, which suggests a lack of supply in certain segments of the private rented sector. Other data suggest a growing pressure on rents especially in the lower segment of the market. Rising rents carry a risk of affordability issues emerging in parts of the private rented sector. My Department will be commissioning relevant policy research in this area, including in regard to the potential role of rent certainty.
I am pleased my Department's 2014 national homeless budget will be maintained at the 2013 level of €45 million. I am acutely aware, however, of the demand for services and the cost of delivering them. This makes it all the more important that effective strategies are used to address and prevent homelessness and that people are moved out of homelessness and into independent living as quickly as possible. Investment of more than €50 million was provided through my Department and housing authorities towards the provision of homeless services in 2013. Similar investment is expected in 2014. In addition, the Health Service Executive spends in excess of €30 million annually providing care supports for the homeless. Arrangements were put in place in 2013 to provide for the delegation of homelessness funding to the lead housing authority in each of the nine regions, and this will continue in 2014. These arrangements seek to ensure the measures being pursued by housing authorities reflect the housing-led approach advocated in the policy statement, that actions are in place to achieve the target of ending long-term homelessness by the end of 2016, and that evidence to support progress will be presented through the reports on the indicators.
Ending long-term homelessness is an ambitious target. Success will require an enhanced level of partnership between the statutory and non-governmental sectors. Often the discourse around homelessness focuses on figures. Our language refers to the numbers presenting, units provided, millions spent, rough sleepers counted and bed nights occupied. Tackling homelessness is not just about the figures. Our driving motivation is the dignity and value of individuals and families. It is a responsibility I take very seriously in my role as Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning. That is why finding housing-led solutions to homelessness ranks high on my agenda. I look forward to hearing other contributions to the debate.