I thank the Chairman and members for inviting my colleagues, Mr. Brian Kenny and Mr. Thomas Gallagher, and I here today to discuss the research report of Dr. Hearne and Dr. Murphy. Given that there is a time pressure, I might deal with two issues. First, I will provide the committee with a quick update on the actions we in the Department have been progressing in terms of addressing homelessness and second with the issues reflected in the report.
Members will be aware that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, arranged for a housing summit in August. I will give the committee a quick update on what happened at that summit and I will provide the committee with a note after the meeting today in respect of the summit.
In respect of the actions that have been under way in respect of homelessness, members will be aware of and have discussed today the budget provided for housing. A sum of €1.3 billion has been provided by the Government this year for social housing delivery, including longer-term accommodation for homeless families. Last year, 3,000 households left homelessness and moved into sustainable tenancies. In the first quarter of this year we have seen 900 additional households supported in exiting homelessness. In spite of this very significant progress in supporting households to secure longer-term housing solutions, the level of new presentations remains challenging and the number of families accessing homeless accommodation has increased in the past year. August will show a slight decrease in the number of families homeless in the Dublin region. In terms of the commitment to use only commercial hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, which we have discussed previously, for families in exceptional circumstances, more than 1,000 families have now exited such emergency accommodation since Rebuilding Ireland was published last year. Five hundred families have been prevented from entering hotels. In terms of the 647 families who were in hotels in the Dublin region at the end of May 2017, we have been working very hard with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, to exit these families from hotels and more than 280 of these families had exited hotels and moved into more appropriate accommodation by the end of August. We will be working in the coming period to exit the remaining families out of the hotels.
Members will have heard a great deal about hubs. I will not go into detail on them but we can discuss them after my statement. A sum of €25 million has been made available for family hubs and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, recently announced a further allocation of €20 million. This is for the capital costs around the hubs and the very much needed wrap-around supports that we discussed earlier this morning, which we are putting in place in the hubs. It is important to note that in excess of 1,000 homeless housing assistance payments have been put in place in Dublin since January 2017 arising from the recent housing summit.
Deputy Boyd Barrett and the Chairman have been very supportive of the place-finder service. Arising from the housing summit, the HAP place-finder service is now also being rolled out nationally to each of the 31 local authorities to target HAP-supported rental properties for the households in emergency accommodation which we heard about this morning. We will also have 200 additional beds in place in Dublin by the end of the year, which is on top of the 2,500 emergency beds in place nationally. We have also heard this morning some discussion of the inter-agency group established by the Minister. The group will be key to addressing some of the issues we heard about in family hubs around medical and psychological supports.
Turning briefly to the report, the Government has been very focused in terms of Rebuilding Ireland and the key issues raised in the report on addressing what is well understood as the key cause of the significant challenges in the housing sector, namely, undersupply. The Rebuilding Ireland plan and the strategy for the rental sector published in December 2016 set out a range of measures to accelerate supply. These include: the use of public land; changes to the regulatory and planning processes; funding for housing-related infrastructure; schemes to get vacant properties back into use; and a significantly increased social housing programme, which we can discuss shortly. In addition, the Minister announced recently a change to social housing building policy which will see the housing budget being reoriented to direct-build programmes for local authorities and housing bodies. As a result, the current target for 2018 of 3,000 newly built homes will increase by almost 30% to 3,800 such units.
HAP is a key delivery mechanism in the context of Rebuilding Ireland and an immediate and flexible form of housing support for households with a long-term housing need. Any household assessed as eligible for social housing is immediately eligible for housing support through the HAP scheme. HAP recipients can avail of full-time work and retain their housing support with an adjustment in their differential rent. Under rent supplement, these households would have lost their housing support. There are currently 27,100 active HAP tenancies with a total of 12,695 such tenancies being set up in 2017 to date. These numbers indicate that Rebuilding Ireland's target of 15,000 tenancies to be supported by the scheme in 2017 will be met. These tenancies involve more than 20,000 separate landlords and agents.
The evidence of the success of the HAP scheme suggests that many households want what HAP has to offer, namely, flexible housing support with access to long-term policies at a rent that is based on their ability to pay and the security of knowing they can work full-time without losing their household support. Comments made in the report on landlords being uninterested in the scheme certainly do not tally with the overall experience of the scheme's operation. HAP addresses many long-standing issues raised by landlord groups and housing academics on the operation of rent supplement. HAP scheme payments are made to the landlord on the tenant's behalf, which is to say that all payments are made electronically directly to the landlord. In essence, the landlord does not have to collect the rent. It is important to recognise that in developing the HAP scheme, every effort has been made to provide a strong level of long-term support while allowing for far greater flexibility of support, including speed of access to the scheme comparable to rent supplement. All parties to the administration of the scheme are committed to providing prospective HAP tenants with the capacity to secure good-quality, appropriate accommodation in the private market in the areas in which they want to live.
I move now to deal quickly with hubs. In respect of the comments of Dr. Hearne and Dr. Murphy, it is important to be very clear that family hubs are designed to be an important first response for families who become homeless and who have no alternative other than commercial hotels. Family hubs provide more appropriate and suitable accommodation for families than commercial hotels. They are not a long-term housing solution as families will move into houses and apartments that will be provided under social housing supports as supply becomes available. Housing authorities are working hard to ensure the progression of homeless families into independent tenancies as quickly as possible. Indeed, since opening in June 2017, more than 50% of the families accommodated in the Mater Dei family hub, referred to by the Chairman earlier, have transitioned to more permanent homes. Family hubs provide a more secure and stable placement for families on an ongoing basis, unlike the insecurity of hotel accommodation, especially during peak periods and holidays. These custom-developed facilities offer family living arrangements with a greater level of stability than is possible in hotel accommodation while move-on options to long-term independent living are identified and secured. Such arrangements facilitate more co-ordinated needs assessment and support planning, including on-site access to required services such as welfare, health and housing services, cooking and laundry facilities and appropriate family supports.
The Department recognises that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to meeting housing needs. Households are different and their housing needs are different and will change over time. If meeting housing need were simple, we would have no vacant social or private units in any local authority area, we would have no households refusing offers of social housing on multiple occasions and we would not be striving to introduce greater choice and autonomy in the housing allocation process through initiatives like choice-based letting. Achieving a balanced mix of solutions must remain a priority, even in the midst of the current housing issues we face. The introduction of HAP is a major step forward in introducing flexibility to meet housing need. Many of the households in HAP today will move to other forms of social housing support over their lifetimes as their needs change and as more units become available. Many will move out of social housing supports as their need lessens.
I thank the committee for inviting us here today. My colleagues, Mr. Brian Kenny and Mr. Thomas Gallagher, and I are more than happy to take any questions the members have.