I thank Seanad Éireann for the opportunity to update the House on measures to reduce homelessness and accelerate social, affordable and private housing delivery, as well as on the work of the Land Development Agency, LDA, cost rental projects and the affordable dwelling arrangements.
We have been working tirelessly for the past three years to rebuild sufficient capacity in the housing market. I welcome the opportunity to outline the progress that has been made and some future areas of priority action. As I always say, the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness includes a ring-fenced budget commitment of nearly €6 billion for housing projects. There is a list of actions across the various delivery methods. However, we are always open to new ideas and suggestions if we think they can work. These debates are useful, both to update the House on progress and to get some feedback.
Addressing homelessness continues to be a key priority for this Government and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in particular. We are working very closely with local authorities and our non-governmental organisation, NGO, service delivery partners to deliver solutions for those individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Senators can be assured that real progress is being made. The number of people exiting homelessness into a home is increasing significantly. In the first half of the year, 2,825 adults and their associated dependants exited homelessness into tenancies. This is an increase of 21% on the comparable period in 2018. However, we are the first to recognise that this is not enough when so many people are still in need of a permanent or rented home. Our work will not stop until we can address that because we know from the figures that are released monthly that more than 1,700 families are in need of a house. We are trying to find homes for these families. Even though things are improving as we find homes for people in emergency accommodation more quickly, it is still not enough. We have to intervene in many different ways, which we are trying to do.
I will outline some of the critically important ongoing activities. We are delivering long-term solutions for homeless households by sustaining the progress made by Rebuilding Ireland in delivering more new social homes. More than 27,000 households had their housing needs met under Rebuilding Ireland in 2018. The supply of local authority and approved housing body homes available for social housing increased by more than 8,000. That figure of 8,000 comprises the long-term permanent solutions, namely, new housing stock combining direct build, Part V acquisitions, leasing and so on, while the other 21,000 are accounted for by short-term measures, mainly the housing assistance payment, HAP, as well as other schemes. We are also helping the taxpayers. As Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas know, that is the intervention we are trying to carry out.
Naturally, we want more permanent housing solutions. For this reason, this year's aim is for permanent social housing delivery to reach a figure of 10,000 houses. Last year, it was a little over 8,000 and this year it will be 10,000 and probably more. We are committed to delivering 11,000 social housing units next year and 12,000 subsequently under the auspices of Rebuilding Ireland. Under Project Ireland 2040, we have set aside a budget to deliver 12,000 social houses every year for the ten years up to 2028. As I have said before, I hope and expect all future Governments, regardless of their make-up, to show the same commitment to social housing. If we had that for the ten years before we came into government, we would not be in the position of being short of social housing. We do not have enough social housing for a country of our size. That is because of insufficient delivery in good years. However, we are finally catching up and I ask that people commit for the future. I analyse the commitments of every party and every spokesperson, and no one has committed to delivering 12,000 social housing units every year in the future. We are committed to that and we are making that happen. I hope others will do the same because it is important that we do that.
While we increase the supply of social housing, the housing assistance payment and the homeless HAP place finder service are playing a very important role in accelerating exits from homelessness and finding houses for those who need them. I have heard all the arguments that HAP relies on the private sector and it does. It is not the perfect arrangement but more than 40,000 households are in a home because of it. It is a successful scheme. There will always be some difficulties and cases where it is not successful, as with any rental situation. We will deal with those when we can. In the majority of cases, however, HAP is working. We would rather not spend this money on subsidising private rental accommodation, as I am sure everybody would agree. We would prefer to use all that money to build permanent social housing, but the new houses cannot be built quickly enough. As such, we have to rely on the private sector in the short term and work with it to provide people with a home today. There is no point in telling a family that there is no scheme to help them rent a house in the short term while a house is being built for them. We must have both. The level of objection I sense towards HAP is wrong. People are misinterpreting the benefits of the scheme, which is a shame.
In early 2018, the Government made homeless HAP services available through all local authorities and introduced supports for local authorities to recruit dedicated place finder staff to work with homeless households to identify and secure tenancies in the private rental sector. As of the end of the second quarter of 2019, more than 8,000 households had been supported by the homeless HAP scheme nationally. The majority of people who use the HAP scheme find their own home. They engage with our services, we put them through the system and their rent is subsidised under the scheme. It works quite well. However, there are many other categories. Certainly the more vulnerable categories find it hard to find a house or cannot locate one. That is where the place finder services come in. They are working well with local authorities. Their job is to bring people who are having difficulty finding a house closer to one.
Where families require emergency accommodation, we are working to minimise the use of hotels. I have been delivering family hubs as a more suitable form of accommodation. Not only are the facilities more suited to maintaining a normal family dynamic, but it has been demonstrated that the families staying in hubs exit to a permanent tenancy much sooner than would be the case with other forms of emergency accommodation. I have visited many of the family hubs. They are not the perfect solution or the end solution. They are a temporary solution while we find the household a family home, be it a rented house through a scheme or more permanent social housing. However, they are much better than a commercial hotel setting. They are not in any way permanent. While we are increasing the social housing stock and finding more permanent homes for the families concerned, our job is to make that time in emergency accommodation as easy as possible. It is not ideal, but we try to provide the services people need and ease the journey through emergency accommodation. The family hubs enable that and are a much better place. No one is saying they are the perfect solution in any shape or form. They are just temporary.
There are now 28 hubs operating nationwide, offering almost 650 units of family accommodation in key urban housing authorities. We recognise that supporting an exit from homelessness sometimes requires more than a house. Sometimes it requires a broader suite of social and welfare supports. We analyse the trends of the prevalent needs and what causes people to be homeless in the first place. It roughly breaks down into two halves. About 50% of cases have economic causes, such as a difficulty with a bank or a landlord, rents being too high or the loss of a job. There is a financial reason in about half of the cases. The other half of the cases do not have financial causes. We try to intervene in those cases and help as well as we can, but some families need extra supports, not just the building or the home but extra help in availing of the house and staying in it.
We have developed a high level interagency group to ensure a more cohesive Government response to homelessness. The group includes representatives from key Government Departments, local authorities, Tusla and the HSE. The whole idea of the action plan for housing was to bring all the relevant players together to work on solutions rather than having different Departments working in silos. This approach has worked well in the Action Plan for Jobs and the climate action plan, and it is working with the housing action plan. It is delivering solutions and we need to do more of that. We need to develop working relationships between the Departments of Health, Housing, Planning and Local Government, Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Education and Skills, and Children and Youth Affairs. All of these bodies are coming together to work on solutions to provide the best outcomes for people who are in a very difficult situation.
A street outreach service is assertively engaging with people who are sleeping rough across the Dublin region to support them initially into temporary accommodation and then on to long-term housing options. At least 200 new permanent emergency beds have been introduced in the Dublin region every year under Rebuilding Ireland. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive will deliver a further 200 additional permanent beds this coming winter.
I said previously in the Dáil and I repeat that there is no reason for anyone to be living or spending the night on the streets. There is not a family living on the streets, nor should there be because supports are available to them. Every six months, an official count is done of the number of people living on the streets. The most recent one indicated that approximately 160 or 170 people were recorded as living on the streets. They do not have to do that. We would rather they were not living on the streets. We try to encourage them to come in and avail of our services. I am not saying we have a house for everybody but we have an emergency response. There are temporary emergency beds, and the services to wrap around those also.
We have put additional outreach people on the streets - I believe Fr. McVerry won that contract - who engage with people who are rough sleeping and try to encourage them to come in and use our services. Some people are dealing with various issues, one of which may be a bad experience on a previous occasion. There are many issues to be teased through but I would encourage anyone who knows or engages with someone rough sleeping to ask them to engage with our services.
We know that in extreme weather events people who would not normally come in off the streets will come in and engage with our services. In one very bad weather event about a year ago - I forget which one it was - approximately 60 people who were rough sleeping came in off the streets. A high number of those remained in our services after the event and have now gone through the system to try to find a permanent housing solution. That is a good result, and we want to do more of that. That is the reason we have an increased focus and more staff involved in the street outreach service trying to engage with people to bring them in.
It is important that we make sure there are a sufficient number of emergency beds to deal with people who come in from the streets. Every year, following the official counts in October and November and we have the feedback from the NGOs and everybody else, and our own staff on the streets, we make sure we have a sufficient number of emergency beds to cater for that. That is the reason generally every autumn there is an increase in the number of emergency permanent beds. It is important that we would stay ahead of that.
All of those emergency beds are supported, temporary accommodation where single individuals and couples receive the accommodation and health supports they need. We have tried to move that further along. Today, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is in Usher's Quay announcing the new €30 million project for the Dublin Simon Community, which will provide more than 100 beds and will deal with medical as well as housing needs. That is a fabulous project that has been going on for many years. I am glad it has finally moved on and that our Department was able to find the funding for it.
Since the publication of the national implementation plan last September, Housing First services have begun to be rolled out nationwide. This service has been active in the Dublin region since 2014. Services have recently become operational in Cork, Galway and Limerick. All regions nationally are now either operational or are at an advanced stage of the tendering process. My county, County Meath, has gone through that tendering process also. A total of 386 tenancies have been created to date.
The Housing First model is one that worked very well in Canada, Finland and other countries. It engages with a person who is rough sleeping for whatever reason. In the past, time would have been spent providing services for that person but not providing him or her with a home delivered through the different services. That model has changed in that we try to provide the persons with a home first, wrap all the services around them and help them to move on to a tenancy and manage all their household affairs. Of the 386 tenancies created, approximately 80% of them have been successful and the people are still in their homes. That is a positive intervention and one we want to continue to make. I know the House will support that intervention, which has worked very well, and we will make sure that every county provides the same model.
Both the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I have been clear that we need to home in on the question of affordability of housing. It is not just about social housing delivery. We want to help address issues of housing affordability and recognise the significant pressure on lower to middle-income households. This pressure is heightened further in Dublin and other urban centres. While we will remain unrelenting in our commitment to meet and exceed our social housing targets under Rebuilding Ireland, this Government is equally committed to delivering genuinely affordable housing to families that do not qualify for social housing supports.
Informed by area economic assessments to ensure fairness and consistency, we intend to target interventions on making housing more affordable in areas where they are most required.
My Department hosted events on affordable housing for all local authorities in November 2018 and in April 2019. As part of this process, each local authority was asked to submit economic assessments to the Department. These assessments focused on both requirements for, and viability of, delivering affordable homes from their own sites.
Since then, the Government has committed €310 million up to 2021 under the serviced sites fund. This fund is for key facilitating infrastructure, on public lands, to support the provision of more affordable homes to buy or to rent. That funding has been used to open up the lands so those local authorities have bought back into their own sites. Currently, it is specifically for publicly-owned lands.
A maximum amount of funding of €50,000 will be made available per affordable home. On this basis, at least 6,200 affordable homes can be facilitated by this measure alone based on the budget allocated to it. We hope to allocate more money to that in the future to bring that figure of 6,200 to well over 10,000 and beyond and to continue with delivery of affordable housing alongside our delivery in social housing and the improvements in the private sector.
Affordable housing, delivered on local authority sites, may be housing for purchase at discounted rates or cost rental, which is being advanced on a number of pilot sites before being rolled out more generally. Homes for purchase will be made available under the recently commenced provisions of Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. The maximum discount will be 40% of the market value of the home and the local authority will take a charge, equivalent to the discount, against the property.
This legislation was enacted in June 2018 and regulations in respect of the making of a scheme of priority were signed by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on 12 March 2019. In its scheme of priority, each local authority sets out the criteria that will be applied to determine the order of priority to be accorded to eligible households in instances where the demand for such affordable dwellings exceeds the number available. Further regulations will be put in place over the coming months regarding purchaser eligibility and other matters.
Under the cost rental model, rents cover the cost of delivering, managing and maintaining the homes only, less both the profit margin seen in the private rental sector and any financial supports provided by the State or local authorities. With the resulting rents significantly below market levels, this would mean that many households on moderate incomes will have access to a more affordable and stable form of rental tenure than would otherwise have been the case. The rents will obviously depend upon the overall cost of each development and will vary according to the site and design specifics. However, my Department has identified several factors that can put downward pressure on costs and make cost rental more affordable for tenants. These include: low to zero land costs; a design approach with value engineering and long-term maintenance in mind; and capital subvention to individual developments through the serviced site fund.
More competitive rental levels under the model can also be supported by accessing low-cost, stable finance that is paid back over an extended period of time. This long-term financing has, for example, been accessed via the European Investment Bank, EIB. A pilot cost rental project is currently on site in Enniskerry Road, Stepaside, County Dublin. It involves a collaboration involving the Department, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the Housing Agency, approved housing bodies, Respond and Tuath, and the Housing Finance Agency. Launched by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, earlier this month, it comprises 155 homes, a community facility, along with green spaces and car parking, some of which is underground. The 155 homes will include 50 cost rental units, all of which will be two-bedroom apartments. It is anticipated that at €1,200, rents for these units will be significantly below the market rates for the area. We want to get that price even lower but compared with the current asking price for rents, it is approximately €600 or €700 less. Under cost rental and as we roll this model out, we should be able to achieve greater results when it comes to the costs.
While the cost rental element of this project is relatively small in scale, at approximately 50 units, it will act as the first example of how this model can work in an Irish context. We know it has worked very well in other countries and we want it to work well here also. It will provide us with invaluable lessons when designing a larger-scale system. It will help to shape the contractual model and specifications for future larger-scale projects we hope to roll out across the country in years to come.
The second cost rental pilot project will be delivered on a Dublin City Council-owned site at St. Michael's Estate, Emmet Road, Inchicore. It is estimated that this site can accommodate more than 470 homes in a high-quality mixed tenure development. The current tenure mix as agreed with the Department will be 70% cost rental and 30% social.
In addition to these pilot programmes, the Land Development Agency is examining the potential to deliver cost rental homes at scale from its land portfolio and the broader State land bank at sites such as the former Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, and Shanganagh, in Dún Laoghaire.
To this end, a working group has been established within my Department, in conjunction with the Land Development Agency, the Housing Agency and other expert bodies. This group is developing a policy framework for the broader cost rental model to be used on those sites and other sites also.
It is determining how a sustainable financial structure can be established to commence the delivery of units at the scale required to get this new category of housing off the ground. The work of this group has been assisted by a consultancy and research project undertaken by the European Investment Bank on our behalf. Everyone is very committed to making this model work and ensuring that it will be adapted to the Irish situation.
The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, is designed specifically to address housing supply which is a crucial factor in moderating house prices. In addition to supporting the provision of private housing at market prices, LIHAF will support more than 2,300 affordable homes on mainly publicly owned lands, while 5,600 affordable homes will benefit from the LIHAF related cost reduction. Some of these homes have already come on stream. This is where there is private land beside public land and the infrastructure naturally accesses both. The new Home Building Finance Ireland initiative provides finance at commercially competitive rates to developers with sites ready to go but which are experiencing difficulty in obtaining funding. This will also contribute to the increased supply of new homes, including homes at more affordable price levels to buy and to rent. In the first seven months of operation, €41 million in funding has been approved under the initiative which will deliver 228 homes across seven sites.