I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Members of the Seanad for the opportunity to update the House on the Government’s progress in responding to the housing challenges. I will highlight the actions we have taken and are taking to increase the social housing stock and meet the needs of those on the waiting lists and those at risk of becoming homeless, as well as to drive the increased supply of new housing across all tenures and maximise our existing housing stock to meet current and future needs.
I recognise that, in doing this work and in making progress under Rebuilding Ireland, there is cross-party support for the work we are trying to do. I know many want to do even more and we all agree with that, but most agree with the actions we are taking and both Houses of the Oireachtas support the spend of €6 billion under Rebuilding Ireland and the action plan for housing. Local authorities are central to this and I am conscious we have representatives from Waterford in the Visitors Gallery, in particular Councillor Declan Doocey. It is important to recognise the role that local authorities have. They are on the front line when it comes to housing delivery. In working with the Department, State agencies, NGOs and approved housing bodies, the local authorities are the main drivers.
Having increased capacity in terms of people and resources in the local authorities in the last year or two, we are in a much stronger position to try to address homelessness and the housing shortage than we were two or three years ago. Much of that is because we now have money we did not have a couple of years ago. I wish we had it years ago, so we would not have this housing problem, but we did not have it. Now, with the increased economic recovery, with people back at work and with more taxes coming in, we have a lot more money to spend on housing, and local authorities can rightly resume their position as the drivers of housing solutions, working with all involved.
I want to acknowledge the delivery of almost 26,000 social housing supports by local authorities, approved housing bodies and the other housing stakeholders to those who needed support and help in 2017. We have over-achieved our initial aims for many of our targets, although we need to maintain and build on this progress in 2018 and beyond. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, myself and the Department are clear that, while the action plan for housing sets out how to tackle this, action by action, over a five-year period, we cannot rest and sit back until there is nobody in a homeless situation, nobody living in an emergency house and the housing stock is under control. When we say we are making progress and list our achievement of targets, it is not looking for a clap on the back but just to state the fact that we are making some progress. We all recognise the urgency of going even further and doing even more work. That is why an additional €500 million was added to the overall housing budget last year and why we got an additional €100 million for last year at the end of last year to enable us to do more in the 12 months just gone.
I want to acknowledge the hard work across the country in tackling homelessness. It was encouraging to see the reduction in homeless numbers in December but we must do more to advance additional preventive measures. We know the numbers rise and fall in different months but we hope the trend will continue downwards, in particular in regard to the number of homeless families in emergency accommodation. We will have the figures for January quite soon and they will, hopefully, give us something to build on and will prove the progress we are making.
I often say in the other House that while I accept there are still thousands of people in an emergency situation, and a hotel is no place to raise a family, which we accept, progress is being made and we are getting there. A lot of taxpayers' money is being spent on this so it is important we recognise there is progress. All of the different agencies, local authorities, approved housing bodies and NGOs are at the coalface dealing with this on behalf of our Department, spending taxpayers' money to address homelessness. They are doing a good job with the resources they have and they want to do more, as we all do. We will make progress and we will get there. Some 4,000 people last year left a homeless situation and are in a house today. It is not enough, given there are still 8,000 people in emergency situations, but I want to recognise this and give a little bit of hope that there is progress and they are not going to be left in an emergency situation forever.
I would like to highlight some key outcomes from the range of actions we have taken under Rebuilding Ireland. Some 25,892 is the number of new households that had their housing need met in 2017. As the Minister, Deputy Murphy, puts it, that is 100 new households who have had their social housing need met every working day of the week last year. That shows the progress, although we want to build on that and do even more in the year ahead. The Government exceeded its overall target for new social housing supports last year by 23%, which is more than 4,800 additional tenancies. Compared with 2016, last year we increased our social housing supports by 36%, or 6,847 more households supported. Over 7,000 new homes were brought into the active social housing stock through build, acquisitions, voids and leasing programmes in 2017. This is a 40% increase, or almost 2,000 new homes, on what was planned for the year, and it is a 24% increase over what was achieved in 2016.
Again, these are homes that were not in use and that are new to the stock. We have all heard the stories of local authorities only delivering 75 or 100 houses a couple of years ago. That is now changing, rightly so, and it could not change quickly enough. That is why we are involved in putting in place new delivery mechanisms and new processes to speed up the delivery of houses. To repeat, 7,000 permanent social houses came on stream last year, which is a major plus, and it will be about 8,000 this year. Added to that are all of the temporary social houses under the HAP scheme, which we are also trying to strengthen. There is progress although, as I keep stressing, it is not enough to help everybody and we have to keep going in order to do that.
We came in slightly shy on our local authority and approved housing bodies build target for the year, having hit some 92% of our target. This means there were 2,245 newly-built homes, which is still a positive result and is over three times the level built in 2016. While it is not enough, the trends are going the right way. The local authorities are getting their teams together. We have regular discussions with them about changing the way we do business and about strengthening their teams and strengthening resources to get action on the ground, which is happening. The progress is there to be seen.
Furthermore, when we look at the combined delivery for both built and acquired social housing homes in 2017, some 4,511 new homes were delivered. That is 22% or an additional 827 homes more than had been originally planned. Again, we are trying to put more money into delivering housing, certainly in terms of build and acquisitions.
We recognise that although we have made progress and thousands of people have been helped, thousands of people join the system having declared themselves homeless every month, as has happened over the past year. We want to get ahead of that situation once and for all. I hope that the figures will reduce on a regular basis thus indicating we have got ahead of the problem. It has proven difficult to get ahead of the problem because 90 or 100 people present themselves as homeless every month. I have outlined why the numbers have not reduced fast enough but we must keep pushing. I believe we will make major inroads in this area in 2018.
We have changed the delivery mix for 2018, which means we can do more on the build side and less on the acquisitions side. Where buying makes sense, and where it does not compete with young families or couples in the market, local authorities will continue to do so. The Minister has made that very clear at the past two housing summits. Last September, he made it clear to local authorities that we want them to resume building houses and not just to acquire houses. It was very clear, at both summits, that it still makes sense for some local authorities to buy vacant stock that nobody else wants, particularly as one moves further away from Dublin. It makes sense to use taxpayers' money in the best possible way. While we build the system back up to capacity in order to build houses and deliver sites, it makes sense that we acquire sites and houses when they are vacant, when nobody else is competing for them and they are good value. Local authorities know what they must do. The closer local authorities are to Dublin, the greater the focus will be on building houses. We have asked every local authority to up its game and drive the pipeline of new builds and new houses. Today, about 3,700 social houses are being constructed across 190 sites. On top of that figure, a total of 12,700 projects covering 720 sites are at different stages. That is a good number of projects but we have asked the local authorities to double and, indeed, treble, their efforts because the current number will not be enough to deliver the target of 50,000 houses under Rebuilding Ireland. We have asked local authorities to do more, to find more sites and to put more plans and processes in place. We are working with them on these aspects on a daily basis.
Construction figures for September 2017 show that 3,700 new social houses were being built across 190 sites. We hope to increase that figure because the plan aims to deliver 3,800 in 2018. Activity in 2017, under Part V, reflects the overall increase in activity in the wider residential construction sector. The 388 homes delivered represent an almost sixfold increase on the number of new social homes delivered using this mechanism in 2016. These statistics reflect the fact that the private sector has resumed building houses. Again, we can see the trend is going in the right direction. When we put together the Rebuilding Ireland programme 18 months ago, we thought a total of 19,000 would be built by 2018. The construction sector has estimated that about 23,000 houses will be delivered this year and the ESRI has estimated that 24,000 houses will be delivered. That trend is much more positive than what we thought it would be at this stage. I am glad it is because we need that many houses and even more. Again, the figures show that there is activation on many sites and many houses are being delivered that will address various aspects of this issue, for example, providing housing for people living in emergency accommodation and in hotels, and addressing the price of homes, affordability and the cost of rent. All of these issues can be solved by a major increase in the number of houses. If we increase the supply of housing, we can tackle all the different parts of the housing difficulties that exist. I am glad that trends are moving in the right direction.
In terms of the housing assistance payment, HAP, the target of 15,000 was exceeded by almost 3,000 with 17,916 new HAP tenancies established in 2017. Overall, some 4,000 exits from homelessness were achieved in 2017, which is 33% higher than in 2016. I remind people, and I will keep saying it, that we are aware of the fact that hundreds of people present as homeless. Although 4,000 people are no longer homeless, the improvement is not enough. We know this number is not enough and we will do much more, but people must realise that there is hope.
In terms of HAP, we have received a lot of feedback from Senators in this House that they are unhappy with the scheme. In contrast, the majority of people I have met who are on HAP have confirmed that they are quite happy with the scheme and they think it works very well. They much prefer HAP over the previous rent assistance scheme because HAP allows people to return to work, thus increasing their household income. As a result, they can source houses in different places. It is getting more difficult to find a HAP house in the pressure zones and areas. The scheme has worked well for thousands of people over the past couple of years, including this year when almost 18,000 people got a HAP tenancy. However, we will always hear about the hard cases where HAP has not worked. I am not saying HAP works for everybody, but I am saying that it works for the majority of people and the feedback has been quite good. Again, we are changing HAP in the greater Dublin region in order to make the scheme more attractive to people, including those who are homeless.
Regarding the residential sector more generally, in 2017, over 17,500 new homes commenced construction, an increase of 33% on 2016. Again, this is another positive trend. Last year, there were over 9,500 registrations in larger developments, a level not seen since March 2009. Again, the trend is going in the right direction. Such schemes will give us the houses we need to solve all of these problems this year and in the years ahead.
Last year, over 19,000 homes were connected to the ESB network, an increase of more than 29% on 2016. Again, this is yet another positive trend. This number includes newly built homes and those lying empty for more than two years. We do not deny that the figure includes houses that are not new builds. We do not have the exact number but we are trying to get it from the ESB. The company generally records as a connection houses that were disconnected two years previously. Therefore, the figure relates to houses that have been empty for two years or a new build. Over 19,000 homes being connected is a very positive number. That situation contributes to us being able to source over 25,000 tenancies for people in housing solutions as well. Again, we are on the right track.
In terms of judging what is the right data set to use that can tell us exactly what housing has been built in the past year or two years, my Department and the CSO are working together to reach agreement on a set of figures that captures the number of new builds per year. We will probably have figures by March or April that will give us the total figure for new builds in 2017, and for the second half of 2016. Every year from now on, we will have the real figure for new builds. Such information is important to all of us here who are involved in either making or judging policy. My Department has used the same figures for years but we recognise that we can make the figures better and easier to work on by working with the CSO. I hope that we will have the data for the second quarter of this year as well.
In the year to the end of September 2017, planning permissions were granted for more than 18,000 new homes. As of 31 December 2017, An Bord Pleanála had received 13 applications for large scale developments under the new fast-track process, which we signed into law six months ago, including 1,900 houses, 1,750 apartments and over 4,000 student bed spaces. All projects are due for decision in 2018 and, in fact, some decisions have been made in the week or two gone by. Recently we have had the first positive decision under this scheme, which is welcome news. Again, we hope that this planning method will fast-track some developments, thus enabling us to achieve the scale that we want. Most of the cases have had a positive outcome.
In recognising the positive developments in 2017, and as I have said a few times during this debate, our work is not finished. I know that it is not finished by a long shot. We all know, and the fact that Senators have arranged for statements to be taken here today shows they all know, that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to providing people with homes and houses at the right price and in the right place. We understand that and we know it. That is why I say that all of our work across all of the actions mentioned in Rebuilding Ireland is still a work in progress. As I have said before, Rebuilding Ireland is similar to the Action Plan for Jobs. In the first year and half of the Action Plan for Jobs, it was hard to see results and thus have full confidence that the plan would work. At that time, everyone worried about whether jobs were being created. All the work took place behind the scenes and then job creation kicked in from years two, three and four. In fact, by the end of year five, the Action Plan for Jobs had doubled its stated output for job creation. That shows the process can work, and the same applies to the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness.
During the first 12 months we debated whether the plan had made progress. The Government could see that it was making progress and we could see the trends, but it was hard to produce proof. Eighteen months have elapsed and we have all the figures for last year which prove progress has been made and housebuilding is taking place in a private and public capacity. The figures prove that local authorities are back in the game, are delivering and are putting teams in place to do even more. Many projects are coming onstream that did not exist a year ago. The Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is beginning to show its value now, and we need to build on it. We must drive the plan with increased urgency in order to make sure we provide enough homes for thousands of people, especially the families who are living in emergency accommodation.
Again, the five-year plan is 18 months old and has been allocated €6 billion. I know it is the least people in this House want to do. Apart from delivering housing, the plan has put the construction sector on a sound and sustainable footing. The plan will ensure that when we are finished with Rebuilding Ireland, and we have other plans, that people who invest in the construction sector, create a company, or develop an apprenticeship or provide skills in this area, will know that it is a safe place to develop a career or to invest in. If we manage this issue right, we will always have a sustainable and stable housing construction sector and we will not be susceptible to the boom and bust cycle that we experienced in the past.
I will continue to outline the figures as they will give people confidence in the action plan. As the Minister has clearly said, this is an evolving document and he has proposed a permanent review. We are always open to new ideas and actions.
Even in the last few weeks, we have announced new schemes including the affordable loan product, which is a very good product and in respect of affordable sites and the delivery of affordable houses. This morning, we launched the new enhanced leasing arrangement, which will help to deliver more housing stock. On a weekly and monthly basis, we are coming out with new ideas to help drive supply. Sometimes, that is a reform of old ideas. The housing loan option was one local authorities always had but this is a better product. Anyone who can get a guaranteed fixed-rate loan at 2% for 25 years is getting a positive outcome. It puts people in a position to buy their own homes and provide for themselves. There are small changes along the way and at other times there are structural changes such as the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, and funding infrastructure for sites. All of these actions come together at different levels using taxpayers' money to form the solution. They will all deliver something.
We had a housing summit on 22 January where the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, brought all the local authorities together. We discussed with every local authority how to implement the targets we have set for social housing and how those targets will be achieved. We have agreed a lot of new processes and systems and have put in place a new housing delivery team in the Department to work with local authorities and drive the agenda across the system. We have a new land management and residential management team, which I chair, to drive the management of land and increase the pipeline. We are looking at all zoned land to see how we can deliver public and private houses there more quickly. We are looking at how we manage the process and plan for the years ahead to ensure we have enough land in place to deliver the houses we need.
The targets for delivery in each local authority area are based on the social housing needs assessment and waiting lists, which were published earlier this month. I am sure most Members have copies by now. The targets also take account of two changes in the latter half of last year: an increased focus on direct-build by local authorities and the additional money we have. Each local authority chief executive is now required to furnish a report by mid-February confirming and setting out how that local authority will deliver on its social housing targets over the coming years. At the summit, it was all about the urgency and how we can move faster to deliver more houses. The quality and design of those houses and how we activate and use land in conjunction with the private sector to deliver social, affordable and private housing were also in focus. A major part of the summit related to the emergency situation of homelessness and the number of people in emergency accommodation, including hotels and bed and breakfast premises. We discussed how to improve services for them and deliver more accommodation of a permanent nature. We discussed our obligation to ensure the resources are there to help individuals and especially families in that situation and guide them through the process as quickly as possible. Local authorities have got the urgency behind that and we have given them all the different solutions, including bringing back vacant stock and building new stock. There are a lot of solutions I can tease through later, but the message now is "urgency" and the need to build on progress, moving even faster, if possible.
I have touched on the leasing initiative announced this morning. It is about activating sites. We will take a long-term lease on some of these houses, which not only activates a site but provides us with housing stock for our overall target of 50,000 units. Affordable housing is the big thing now. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has been very clear on that. He set out the bones of a scheme a week or two ago and his aim is to deliver a minimum of 3,000 and up to 10,000 affordable housing units over the next couple of years. That is the bare minimum through our schemes, but we believe in using State-owned land and working with different sectors, including co-operative, community and private groups. We can use State-owned lands to deliver a great deal more in the affordable housing space and that is what we intend to do in the years ahead, along with cost-rental and other approaches. Rather than have me take up all the time available, I would like to hear Members' comments. I can come back if there are questions.