I thank the Chair and members for the opportunity to appear before the committee to provide an update on the progress made in terms of the implementation of Rebuilding Ireland by the end of 2018. I am joined by Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General, and assistant secretaries Ms Maria Graham, Ms Mary Hurley and Mr. Paul Lemass.
As I have stated on many occasions, supporting families and individuals who are experiencing homelessness remains a crucial priority for the Government and for myself as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. We all know, of course, that the key to addressing homelessness is the accelerated delivery of social, affordable and private housing and the reform of our rental system. Although more than 5,100 adults exited homelessness into independent tenancies in 2018, we are all agreed that the number of families and individuals living in emergency accommodation remains unacceptable. That is why I and my Department continue to focus on preventing as many families and individuals as possible from entering emergency accommodation and are relentlessly focused on exiting as many families and individuals from emergency accommodation as quickly as possible. There was a decrease in the number of people in emergency accommodation last December, which was understood at the time to be partly due to seasonal reasons. However, it was followed by an increase in January. That said, there are some positive movements when it comes to families in emergency accommodation. For two months now, more families have been exited into tenancies than have entered emergency accommodation. I recently approved the appointment of 15 outreach officers who will work with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. The recruitment of these officers will further support families and individuals to exit emergency accommodation into independent tenancies.
In tandem with the delivery of permanent social housing, we are working to deliver a range of initiatives and emergency accommodation to support individuals and families experiencing homelessness. This includes the development of a range of family hub facilities. By the end of 2018, there were 26 family hubs operating nationally, comprising 22 in Dublin and one each in Kildare, Cork, Limerick and Louth. In terms of rough sleepers, an additional 300 permanent emergency beds were delivered during 2018 which have meant that there is now spare capacity and shelter for anyone who wishes to avail of it.
Separately, my Department has been working intensively with the Departments of Health, Justice and Equality, and Employment Affairs and Social Protection on a range of inter-agency actions in order to ensure the correct supports are in place for rough sleepers and homeless individuals. This includes appropriate health supports, such as the wraparound supports required for the Housing First programme which offers longer-term solutions for our vulnerable rough sleepers.
On social housing delivery, it should be noted that significant progress was made in 2018 in terms of supporting new households. Some 27,103 households had their housing need met; 8,422 new homes were brought into the active social housing stock through build, acquisitions, voids and leasing programmes, representing an increase of 7% or 553 new homes on what was planned for the year; 4,251 new build homes were delivered by local authorities and approved housing bodies, representing 96% achievement of the new build target with nearly 2,000 more homes built compared with the previous year; and the number of new social housing homes built in 2018 was eight times greater than the number built in 2015.
At the end of 2018, Rebuilding Ireland had delivered over 72,049 housing supports across all delivery streams. We committed to supporting 137,000 households into appropriate accommodation under build, acquisition and leasing programmes over the six-year period of the plan and, by the end of the third year, we have achieved more than 50% of our target. The Government is on track to deliver on the Rebuilding Ireland targets and funding is in place to secure this delivery. Indeed, by the end of 2019, we estimate that Rebuilding Ireland will have supported 100,000 households.
The build pipeline now in place is expanding, as evidenced in the quarter 4 construction status report for 2018 that has just been published. The number of schemes and homes now delivered or in the pipeline is 19,134, including nearly 5,000 homes on site and under construction and a further 2,569 homes at the final pre-construction stage. The delivery of our social housing build targets under Rebuilding Ireland is currently on track.
We have also seen positive news from the Central Statistics Office in the past month regarding the number of new homes built last year. There was a 25% increase on 2017, with more than 18,000 new homes being built. In addition, more than 2,500 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy and almost 800 dwellings in unfinished housing developments were completed, meaning the number of new homes available for use increased by almost 21,500 last year. This does not include the 3,742 bed spaces completed in the student sector in 2018.
Rebuilding Ireland is substantially increasing the supply of new homes and we need to drive new builds higher again this year. We also know that this increase in supply is contributing to the moderation in the growth in house prices.
As Minister, I have frequently stated that we need to address issues of housing affordability, particularly in Dublin and certain other main urban centres. On affordable purchase, I have commenced the relevant provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the effect of which is to place the new scheme for affordable purchase on a statutory footing. I expect the associated regulations and guidance to issue to local authorities shortly.
I approved funding of €43 million under the serviced sites fund in December. This will enable the delivery of 1,400 affordable homes on local authority lands in Dublin and Cork, as well as more than 700 social housing homes. I envisage that the infrastructure works on approved projects will begin shortly, with the delivery of affordable homes from 2020 onwards. I will issue a second call for proposals under the fund shortly. A total of €310 million is available under the fund out to 2021.
Acknowledging that renters in Dublin and other urban centres are also currently facing significant affordability challenges, I am committed to the introduction of a not-for-profit cost rental sector in Ireland. Progress is being made in terms of advancing the Enniskerry Road and St. Michael’s Estate pilot projects.
Tackling vacancy remains a key objective in 2019. In terms of furthering our ambition to maximise the utilisation of vacant housing stock, my Department is now providing funding for a vacant homes office in each of the 31 local authorities. By the end of 2018, all 31 local authorities had appointed a vacant homes officer and submitted their vacant homes action plans. These vacant homes officers create a central point of contact for owners of vacant homes and provide them with information including the funding options that are available to assist in bringing vacant homes back into productive use.
In regard to the rental sector, I recently published the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 with a view to it being passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas in the current term. The Bill provides a number of key measures and reforms designed to enhance enforcement powers for the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, provide greater security of tenure for tenants and further underpin the operation of the rent pressure zone arrangements, along with some further targeted priority measures. My Department is working closely with the RTB to ensure that adequate resources are provided to tackle any capacity constraints.
In addition, the committee recently undertook a review of the proposals I announced to address the short-term tourism-related letting of properties through amendments to planning legislation. As the committee is aware, I propose to regulate short-term letting through the existing exempted development regime by facilitating unlimited home-sharing and the letting of a person’s entire home for a maximum period of 90 days per year without the need for planning permission. In addition, if a person wishes to let a second property that is not his or her principal private residence, he or she may only do so if planning permission is obtained. This will be underpinned by complementary amendments to primary planning legislation.
I thank the committee for its consideration of the proposals at a meeting held with my officials in January and the subsequent observations provided early in February, which are being examined. I look forward to further engagement with the committee as these important legislative proposals are advanced. As I have stated previously, the Government will continue to be strategic and proactive in putting in place plans that learn from the near decade-long banking and construction and housing supply collapse that is at the root of our housing issues.
We published Project Ireland 2040 just over a year ago as the overarching policy and planning framework for investment in and development of our country. Project Ireland 2040 loudly signalled the Government's intention, and reflected a public mood, to shift away from "business as usual" sprawl-based development patterns and adopt more compact, sustainable and community centred development approaches. In simple terms, our cities and our towns must grow upwards, not just outwards, if we are to meet the many housing, transport, climate and economic challenges ahead. Consequently, I have published new statutory guidelines on apartments and building heights that, together with the strategic housing development system operated through An Bord Pleanála, have kick-started a major increase in housing delivery and interest in apartment development in our key urban centres.
Project Ireland 2040, through the national planning framework and the national development plan is being implemented in order that we plan proactively and prudently for a population increase of 1 million people, together with 600,000 new jobs and more than 550,000 new homes. It is not just about top-down national planning but also about strengthening the regional and local level planning tiers. The regional assemblies are at an advanced stage in completing regional spatial and economic strategies for the three regional assembly areas. The finalisation of these strategies later this year will prompt reviews and updates of individual county and city development plans. Through this process, Ireland will have one of the most the most up-to-date and nationally and regionally co-ordinated planning processes in the EU.
Vision and ambition is one thing, but people also want and deserve proper oversight and delivery. This is why the Government has moved to put in place an independent office of the planning regulator to see that the planning process properly implements Project Ireland 2040, as well as a Land Development Agency to make sure the planning process is enabled by strategic land management capabilities to develop in the right places. These organisations will be critical and will make a key contribution to the delivery of housing and the shaping of our country over the next number of years.
I thank the committee for the invitation today and I look forward to working with it throughout 2019. With regard to the rent Bill I have referenced, following the session we had in recent weeks, I would like, if there is time at the end of this engagement, to talk through in private session some of the proposed amendments that will be tabled on Committee Stage.