I thank the House for the opportunity to speak again on this important issue, which I think touches everyone's heart. It is important that we focus on it here in the Dáil and in committee, which I know has happened recently. It is timely that we are having this discussion again. The last time we had a debate on this matter was last May. A great deal has happened since, including the publication last week of two reports on child and family homelessness by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan was probably the main person behind the former report, so I am glad she is here for this debate. I have read through both reports and there are many recommendations in them, which we will study. Some reflect the work that is ongoing and perhaps changes and tweaks to it, and then there are some other new recommendations and changes to legislation. We will look at all that. I did not read all the submissions to the report but I read some of them. There was some acknowledgement during those discussions that in certain areas we are making a little progress but that we must make a lot more and try to continue with this. We always say in these debates that we all accept that until we have ended the situation in which people are living in emergency accommodation long-term, we must keep our focus on this and keep making all the changes possible.
Resolving homelessness is one of the most important challenges facing the State and is, without doubt, one of the key priorities for my Department, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, all our colleagues in the Department and the Government. The Government welcomes the publication of the reports. As I said, we will examine them. Both reports show that the number of families and children who have need of emergency accommodation remains far too high. I welcome the opportunity to outline to the House the measures that have been put in place across Government to tackle this issue. We will go through and try to deal with the recommendations at a later stage.
The initial response to this, for the first couple of years, is about Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. We must ensure that this does not happen again. I refer Deputies to Project Ireland 2040 and the long-term commitments contained therein. I am conscious that some of the submissions to the various committees - certainly those from Mike Allen of Focus Ireland and the Ombudsman for Children - referred to when the next crash will come, what will happen then and whether we will have changed anything. We do not intend for that to happen ever again. I strongly believe that if this House sticks to the plans we have put in place, with long-term planning, management of housing and commitment to delivery of social housing, that will not happen again. Governments will come and go, but I hope that when it comes to housing policy, we stick to long-term thinking and plans which involve managing State lands and resources and delivering housing at a steady, sustainable pace, not a boom-and-bust pace, and that we will build plenty of social housing in good years. It does not matter how, where or why, but we are in this situation because of a mismanaging of housing in general for many years. If we manage it properly, that will not happen again. This is why it is important that, apart from the initial Rebuilding Ireland response, money is set aside for the next ten years to bring more than 12,000 or 13,000 social houses on stream every year. We need to continue and build on that because if we keep at that pace, there will not be a social housing shortage in the long term.
From the point of view of housing construction in general, a key part of Rebuilding Ireland is that we would have a sustainable construction sector and that we would deliver those 28,000 or 30,000 houses every year for the next 20 years, not 90,000 one year and 10,000 the following year. That is the important part. I hope that will do away with the fear that this could happen again. It should not. Financial crashes and other events can happen worldwide , but this country should be able to manage its housing stock regardless of such occurrences.
Under Rebuilding Ireland, we have set out a commitment to deliver 50,000 new social houses into the system across all the various streams while availing of approximately 87,000 housing assistance payment, HAP, supports, including through the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. I recognise the calls in some of the committees that we not rely on the private sector for our housing. This is only a short-term reliance. Naturally, as we rebuild social housing stock we should not have to rely on the private sector through HAP and so on. However, if we had not had it in recent years, we would have a major problem. People would not have had homes to go to. I hear a lot of commentary to the effect that people do not like HAP, but where would those making such comments expect 50,000 families to live if we did not use HAP in the short term? Naturally, we do not want to stay with it long-term. I recognise that Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who is here, and the former Minister, Deputy Burton, made some changes to the rental scheme at the time to bring in HAP, which I believe is a better scheme because it encourages people to go back to work if at all possible rather than penalising them, which was the case in the past. By the end of this year more than 100,000 households will have had their housing need met under Rebuilding Ireland through all the various schemes. The numbers on the housing list have fallen from 91,600 to 68,000, which is a 26% reduction. It is a little bit of progress - no one is saying it is not - but we still want to go a lot further.
I am speaking about people on the housing list whereas the focus today is on those who are homeless, but both are linked in various ways. Delivering more social homes is the key to this. Last year more than 8,000 were delivered. We have just finished a round of negotiations with the local authorities. We will be over the 10,000 mark this year, which is a good step up from where we were two or three years ago. It does not give us enough housing to give a house to everyone who is homeless or on a waiting list, but the trend for the delivery of housing is going in the right direction and we need to continue it. However, the trend for people becoming homeless and the prevention of homelessness is not right, and that is what we want to focus on today along with the child aspect of it.
In the Dublin region, where family homelessness is particularly challenging, important work is being undertaken in the area of homelessness prevention. For every two families who presented to homeless services in the first nine months of this year, one was found a home immediately without the need to enter into emergency accommodation. That is the key part. If those families presented two or three years ago, we would not have been able to do that; they probably would have entered emergency accommodation. Today we can find a house straight away for 50%, or at least one out of two. Then, sadly, the other family would enter emergency accommodation. We are trying to ensure that that is for a shorter period. I am conscious that individuals who become homeless and families presenting as homeless have different needs, and these are addressed in both reports. Some are economic, some are rental, but the breakdown is roughly half and half. Others are social and so on, but rent pressures and the inability to access private rented accommodation are causing about half the problem. This is well recorded in those reports. We are intervening much earlier now to prevent this in the first instance. It is important that we continue to do this while we deal with families who become homeless and enter emergency accommodation.
The number of families presenting to homeless services in Dublin remains high but is falling. In fact, it has dropped by 9.5% in the first nine months of this year compared with 2018. Again, the figure is far too high, but at least if we can stop it rising and then reduce it gradually, we will be on the right track. That is the case in Dublin. I recognise that the figure is going up in other areas. The figures started high in Dublin and then went up in other places, so it makes sense that one would seek to bring the figure back down in Dublin, which would eventually have an impact outside the city.
We must remain focused on this. Over the same period, 786 families have exited hotels, hubs and bed and breakfast accommodation and moved into their own homes in Dublin. This is a 48% increase on the exits recorded during the same timeframe in 2018, which proves that we can do this if we focus all of the necessary resources on it. The issue is being able to reach all of the affected families. It is not enough to only enable a certain number of people to exit homelessness; we must do more and get to the rest as well.
One of the key priorities for my Department is preventing the flow of families and children into homeless services. We know that many of the families presenting as homeless have previously resided in a private rented property and we are committed to strengthening and improving security of tenure for tenants. The key focus of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act which became law in May is to deliver on a number of commitments flowing from Rebuilding Ireland and particularly the commitments made in September 2017 to provide the RTB with additional powers and resources to deliver enhanced protections to both tenants and landlords. That will certainly have an impact in the months ahead. The key measures and reforms are designed to enhance the enforcement powers of the RTB, provide greater security of tenure for tenants and further underpin the operation of the rent pressure zone arrangements.
The HAP place finder service is playing a vital role in helping families out of homelessness and in housing families who find themselves in emergency accommodation. It is a key service and additional staff have been appointed as place finders to help people. In the past, people presenting might have been handed a HAP pack and told to find a house but that is not the answer for a lot of people. Some people need a little extra help to find accommodation and that is what the place finder provides. It is important work because for certain categories of family it can be very hard to find HAP accommodation. Issues like family size as well as other reasons are relevant and that is where we have to intervene. I have heard a lot of commentary from certain front-line organisations about HAP. They do not like the scheme and do not encourage people to use it. That is fine if that is their view but that can have a negative impact on families because we do not always have vacant social houses that are suitable and those families might not be next on the waiting list. HAP must be used as a short-term solution for many families but sometimes families are discouraged from using it, which is a shame. In the majority of cases, the HAP scheme works quite well. I accept that it does not always work and I am sure everyone here has stories of families for whom it did not work but over 40,000 families are using the scheme quite successfully. It is important to see it as a short-term solution for some families which is far better than living in family hubs or hotels.
Through the aforementioned place finder service, all local authorities are now provided with the option of paying deposits and advance rental payments for any households in emergency homeless accommodation, in order to secure accommodation via the HAP scheme. The place finder positions are funded by my Department and are in place in 23 local authorities. More than 9,300 households had been supported by the homeless HAP scheme nationally up to the end of quarter three of 2019. It is having an impact but I stress again that while we do not view it as a permanent solution in the long term, it is helping in the short term.
Housing authorities also oversee and fund a range of homeless prevention and tenancy sustaining initiatives. A number of ongoing public awareness campaigns, including those by the RTB, Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, DRHE, are all playing an important role in making households aware of the supports that are available. When it comes to children who are homeless, we work across Departments and agencies. There is an interdepartmental homeless agency team working together on all of the different interventions that are needed. Some do a good job on that, through the various agencies. I accept the reports calling for more interventions, which we will go through in the course of today's debate, but we are responding to needs as quickly as possible. The issue of children being born into homelessness was highlighted earlier this week. Again, there are extra protections and services available to homeless women who come forward and are pregnant. We have specific accommodation available to address their needs. We wrap services around such women and work very carefully with families in that situation to help them in what is a very difficult time. We also provide ongoing supports thereafter. If there are individual cases of which Deputies are aware, I ask them to let us know and we will make sure that the services are provided. We respond to that need in a different way because we accept that it is a very difficult situation.
I have run out of time. I am happy to stop now and come back in at the end of the debate.