I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
— the Government recognised the urgency of the housing crisis over two years ago and introduced the Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, providing a comprehensive framework for addressing the range of complex issues needing to be addressed across the housing sector;
— the Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is underpinned by over €6 billion in funding to support the delivery of 50,000 new social housing homes and 87,000 other housing supports over the six years 2016 to 2021;
— very significant progress has been made from 2016 to the end of 2018, in partnership with local authorities, Approved Housing Bodies and a range of other delivery partners, with over 72,000 individuals and families having their housing needs met during those three years, over 27,000 of which were supported in 2018 alone, and a further 27,300 households are expected to be supported this year, and this will bring to almost 100,000 the total number of households who will have been assisted under Rebuilding Ireland by the end of 2019;
— the level of progress being made is reflected in social housing waiting lists, which have reduced by 22 per cent, from 91,600 households to 71,858, between 2016 and 2018;
— to date, Rebuilding Ireland has increased the active social housing stock by over 21,200 homes, with some 8,420 of these being delivered in 2018;
— in 2018, over 18,000 new homes were built, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest number of newly built homes any year this decade, and in addition, more than 2,500 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy, with almost 800 dwellings in unfinished housing developments completed, meaning the number of new homes available for use increased by almost 21,500 in 2018, which does not include the 3,742 bed spaces completed in the student sector in 2018;
— the Government is committed to supporting those single persons, families and their dependents who are experiencing homelessness, and Budget 2019 reflects this commitment, with an increase of 25 per cent in the current spending budget for the provision of homeless services (bringing the total to €146 million for this year);
— the most recent published statistics show there were 9,753 persons in emergency accommodation in the month of December 2018, comprised of 6,194 adults and 3,559 associated dependants, and this represents a reduction of 215 people nationally on the numbers recorded in November;
— in December 2018, there were 111 fewer families and 252 fewer dependants in emergency accommodation than was the case in November, and that for the fifth consecutive month there was a reduction recorded in the number of families presenting to homeless services in the Dublin region;
— 111 families exited emergency accommodation into new homes in Dublin in December 2018, while 72 per cent of families in emergency accommodation in the Dublin region at the end of December had been homeless for less than one year, and through service level agreements with service providers, local authorities are working towards ensuring that exits from homelessness are achieved within six months of entering emergency accommodation;
— while the most recent count of rough sleepers in the Dublin region showed that 156 individuals were recorded sleeping rough, which was an increase on the numbers recorded in March 2018, there was a decrease of 28 on the number of persons recorded as sleeping rough during the equivalent winter count in 2017;
— the number of beds in use for single adults has risen from 2,000 beds at the end of 2017 to 2,300 beds in the Dublin region at the end of 2018, and all of these beds are supported temporary accommodation where single individuals and couples receive the accommodation and health supports that they need, with those presenting as homeless being matched to the best available accommodation, according to their needs, and emergency accommodation capacity fluctuates and is dictated by demand, with extra contingency beds being put in place during periods of adverse weather;
— increased outreach and prevention measures are working and will continue to be supported by the Government, including through the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Placefinder Service, and 19 HAP Placefinders are now in place and to the end of quarter 3, 2018, in excess of 5,300 households have been supported through Homeless HAP nationally, 4,350 of whom were in the Dublin region;
— the Government will continue to provide more suitable temporary accommodation to homeless families, increasing the number of family hubs to 26 at the end of 2018, with a total capacity for over 600 families, and with further hubs spaces to be added in 2019, as hubs provide a greater level of stability than is possible in hotel accommodation, with the capacity to provide appropriate play-space, cooking and laundry facilities, communal recreation space, while move-on options to long-term independent living are identified and secured;
— the most recently available performance reports show 3,752 adults exiting homelessness into independent tenancies in the nine-month period between January and September 2018, and this represents an increase of 431 (13 per cent) on the 3,321 exits recorded over the same period in 2017;
— an error was discovered in 2018, whereby households who were not in emergency accommodation had been counted in the emergency accommodation numbers, and this error was rectified and reports on the matter were published;
— extensive supports are also provided to families experiencing homelessness by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, and supports include:
— a special provision under the existing Community Childcare Subvention Programme of free childcare for children from homeless families;
— Tusla’s School Completion Programme, which places an emphasis on children from homeless families;
— Home School Community Liaison Scheme co-ordinators proactively engaging with parents from homeless families to provide supports and assistance where required; and
— children in homeless accommodation being prioritised within the School Completion Programme for services such as breakfast and homework clubs; and
further acknowledges that:
— Housing First is delivering permanent housing solutions for rough sleepers and long-term users of emergency accommodation, and by the end of 2018, the Dublin Region Housing First Service had created Housing First tenancies for 243 unique individuals, of whom 86 per cent have successfully retained their homes, and the Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021 contains targets for each local authority, with an overall national target of an additional 663 tenancies to be delivered by 2021;
— a high-level Homelessness Inter-Agency Group has been established, with representation from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Education and Skills, local authorities, Tusla and the Health Service Executive, and a report from this Group was submitted to Cabinet in June 2018, and a range of recommendations are now being implemented, including better co-ordination of responses, particularly in the areas of health, justice and family homelessness;
— the provision of accommodation to those in the international protection process and the provision of domestic violence refuges, and reporting on progress in these areas, will continue to be prioritised by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs/Tusla, respectively; and
— the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution recommended that the State should progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to housing, subject to maximum available resources, by inserting such a right into the Constitution of Ireland, and the Convention’s recommendation raises substantial questions, including for example, the suitability or otherwise of the Constitution of Ireland as a vehicle for providing for detailed rights in this area, the possible cost, and the fact that there is already power by legislation to confer rights and determine expenditure via primary and secondary legislation and an elected and accountable Government and Oireachtas, and for these reasons the issue of the right to housing was referred, for further consideration, to the appropriate Oireachtas Committee, the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, in October 2017.
I thank the Deputies for tabling this motion and for facilitating the time change to enable it to take place. Unfortunately, I will not be able to stay for the full debate as I only got notice that we were taking it today and arrangements had already been made that I cannot change. I accept the point that regardless of what else is happening in public life we need to be constantly debating this issue in this House because it is so important. I agree with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan that it is heartbreaking to hear the very difficult stories of not only people who are in emergency accommodation but people in housing insecurity, people experiencing difficulty paying the rent or trying to save for a mortgage and the many others who are suffering because we stopped building houses when the economy crashed and for years before that we were not properly building social housing in a sustainable way. A combination of all these factors, including the increase in demand from people returning home and so on, has put huge demand on the housing system throughout the country.
Rebuilding Ireland is about rebuilding our housing sector in a sustainable way over time. I have never said that this could be done in one, two or three years. There are three years remaining in Rebuilding Ireland as a plan. We have from 2016 to 2021, which is the life span of the plan, to make the corrections that we need to make and to do so in a sustainable way. By sustainable I mean a social mix and getting it right and not building massive social housing estates.
Sustainability also means higher densities in places such as Dublin and other cities and urban centres where there is already infrastructure and people want to live. Sustainability also means building really good homes. I will not put people into student accommodation for 20 or 30 years. That accommodation is brilliant for students for nine months. It takes the pressure off the housing system because it means students are not renting a house in, say, Rathmines, Aungier Street, and so on. The houses we build have to be of the best possible standard because they have to stand the test of time. Also these houses will be people's homes, so they will have to be very good. We are taking all these actions over time.
We are roughly half way through Rebuilding Ireland so it is a good time to take stock in terms of where we are going. In terms of each of the challenges that we have or that people face in housing in Ireland today, the focus has to be on the root challenge of increasing supply. There is no point talking about other actions because that is just tinkering. We have to ensure that supply is increased, and in addition to that, we do the other things that we need to do to protect people who are in difficulty. The information we have from the CSO is important. Everybody knew we were using ESB connection data in regard to housing data. It was not a hidden fact. Rather, it was a stated fact that this was the best way to get an idea of the increase in supply. When I took up this Ministry I asked that people try to get an actual figure so that we could really measure what was going on. We did that work with the CSO and we now have those figures. The latest information for 2018 is really encouraging. There were 18,000 new builds last year, which is a 25% increase on the previous year. In addition, 2,500 vacant homes were returned to the housing stock. A further almost 800 homes were also brought back into use. These were houses in ghost estates, which shows that the legacy of the crash is still with us. Also, approximately 3,400 student bed spaces were provided. I have already mentioned why student accommodation is important.
We also have important information today about house price inflation. It is roughly half what it was in 2017 or 2018. We know that this is linked to the increase in supply. House prices are coming down and the rents are reducing but not everywhere. The Deputies will be aware that I have rent legislation coming through the House because some of them have made positive contributions to it and put forward ideas on how the legislation can be improved on Committee Stage, which we will do. We also have the figures from local authorities in terms of council housing. The increase in the stock of social housing last year was significant, being in the thousands. One in four of the new houses built last year was for council housing. I do not know when we last did that but I am looking into it. There are approximately 70,000 people on the housing list, who are our most vulnerable people and need our help. There are also just under 10,000 people in emergency accommodation. As I said, one in four new houses built last year was for council housing. That is not a low target. It is good, but we can do more. I will give Deputies another percentage that might drive them crazy. There was an 800% increase in social housing build over the year before Rebuilding Ireland. Rebuilding Ireland is increasing supply across the economy, including in social housing. This is positive news because these new homes help people out of emergency accommodation or overcrowded situations into new homes. I have met the families who have experienced this. For all the heartbreaking stories we hear, and there is still too much heartbreak out there, it is heart warming when one meets a family given the keys to their new home. I have met some people who have just started their families and have moved from hospital into their new homes. It is fantastic but we need to do so much more because there are so many people who are still in emergency accommodation or still cannot get their own home.
On the number of people in emergency accommodation, there was a decrease in December, which is welcome, but it could be seasonal. In regard to families in emergency accommodation, we also had a number of exits in December. These are families who exited into tenancies as opposed to into their own homes. There was also a decrease in the number of presentations and a decrease in the number of people in hotels, which is also welcome. Much more work needs to be done. I met the local authorities yesterday and drilled this home to them again. It was our fifth housing summit. It is a good process in terms of finding out were the challenges are. We need more hubs as a first response and we need delivery of more homes. We also need to do more work on prevention. Dublin City Council is in the process of hiring new officers to engage with people and help them out of emergency accommodation or to prevent them going into it.
I will not comment on the rent pressure zones because we will have another opportunity to talk about them but I would like to comment briefly on HAP. There are roughly 900,000 people in the country renting. Renting is a safe, secure place for the vast majority of people. It does not work for some and that is why we have, and continue to, put in place extra supports. We did a lot of homeless HAP last year which really helped people and prevented them ending up in emergency accommodation. The housing assistance payment allows people to have flexibility and choice in where they live. It allows them to continue working and earn more money without affecting their housing entitlement and it also allows us to deliver social mix where there previously was no social mix planned in advance. It has positives to it and that must be recognised. We are not planning to put all our weight on the private sector to deliver social housing supports. We are rebalancing. The HAP supports for 2018 versus 2017 were static. The increased delivery came through the increase in stock. This year, we will do less through new HAP than we did last year. Moving forward with each year we rebalance such that in 2021, we will have more people being supported into new social housing homes than being supported into HAP tenancies. We will continue on from there. This is the trajectory we are on.
I will now address a couple of issues in the motion. On the recategorisation issue, which comes up time and again, nobody was removed from the homeless figures. What happened was that people who were not in emergency accommodation were counted by local authorities as being in emergency accommodation. This was corrected. I have been transparent around this issue. The Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government accepted that this mistake was made. As I said, it has been corrected.
The important thing here is not being obsessed with the numbers. It is about how we help the people who are behind the numbers. That is the one thing about this debate that really disappoints me. People are focusing on numbers when they should be focusing on the people behind the numbers and how we help those people out of emergency accommodation and into homes. That is exactly what we are trying to in everything we do.
The Deputy has said that we should declare an emergency. I am not quite sure what new powers we would take in declaring an emergency or how we would use them. I have looked to see what I could do if I declared an emergency. I cannot get around procurement law and I am bit reluctant to go further with regard to planning changes because if we cut standards or regulations too much, we will have situations like Priory Hall in the future. The Deputy should please tell me what emergency powers he would take, how he would do something with a quick change in law that we have not been able to do over the past number of years and what such a law would look like because we have looked at this.
The right to housing has been discussed. It is one of a number of socioeconomic rights that are being discussed by the relevant committee in the House. If we move too quickly to a referendum on something, we risk losing it. We have seen how a proper process has helped us win very important referenda in our recent history. The introduction of a constitutional or legal change regarding the right to housing in other countries has not ended homelessness and the need for emergency accommodation so we must be clear on this. I am not saying I am against having a referendum or the idea of it. I am saying that there is work to be done. While that deliberative work is being done, we will do physical work in terms of building new homes.
Regarding the time spent in emergency accommodation, 72% of families in emergency accommodation in Dublin are there for less than one year. The average length of time in a hub is less than six months. Again, when one meets the families who have gone from a hotel to a hub to a home, one can see and understand the benefit of the trajectory. They should never have been in a hotel. Families who go straight into a hub will get into a social housing home far more quickly as a result, which is why we need more hubs as a first and temporary response.
The number of beds for individuals is increasing and we have more coming on stream. Recently, there was a meeting of the Ministers over the interagency group so it involved the Ministers for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Justice and Equality, Health along with myself and others. Next week, the Taoiseach will bring a memorandum to Cabinet on additional supports we are bringing in for people in emergency accommodation, some of whom are trapped there because we do not know their rights or status. Some of them have long-term health needs that are not being met because they are not in the right accommodation. All these new supports will help improve that.
Housing First is working really well with an 88% to 92% retention rate, with people not falling back into homelessness. We have a national director, a national plan and ambitious targets on which we will build but we must put in the resources first. We must build it and get it right and not do it in the wrong way or else people will start to change their minds around Housing First. Again, we are trying to bring a number of different bodies involved in emergency accommodation around to this new way of thinking. Most have come that way but we need to do it in a stepped way to get it really right. Supply is key to all our challenges. The recent numbers we are seeing with regard to supply are really positive but we will not stop here. The number will increase again in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. We will keep on going until we get this done.