Not only have we a serious housing crisis, it is the worst housing crisis since the 1930s based on what I have heard of the situation at that time. We have an increase of 383% in the number of homeless families since 2012, just three years ago. Families have been forced out of their homes due to the home repossession crisis and spiralling costs of rent around the country.
The Minister has said that many of the solutions to the housing crisis are not part of his responsibility, but I must ask why he cannot bring together the people who have responsibility. The question must be answered as to why everything is not within his responsibility. He said the issues are complex, but they are not that complex and many previous Ministers have held responsibility for the environment, local government and housing. I was a Member of a previous Dáil with the late Jimmy Tully, a Labour Party Minister, who promoted house construction and took full responsibility for housing. We must have that kind of investment now, because we have had under-investment in building and construction for some time and families have nowhere to go. Every Deputy is aware there are 5,000 people in emergency accommodation and 1,500 children homeless. We need more housing. The ESRI has said we need 25,000 houses a year and that we need bedsits for the significant numbers of single people looking for housing. It says we must consider land that is not being used. The Minister must investigate this.
There has been significant talk about the refurbishment of local authority housing. We need action on this now. We are told that some 2,600 local authority houses are empty, so there is an obvious need for action now. I commend Threshold on its booklet, Dublin Tenancy Protection Services – One Year Preventing Homelessness. I also commend the Simon Community on its booklet, Changing the Forecast – Responding to the Homeless and Housing Crisis. These bodies must be commended on what they are doing and the strong statements they are making. Focus Ireland also set up action teams in 2012, when an average of eight new families were presenting as homeless in Dublin every month. This increased to 40 families per month in 2014 and has increased to from 65 to 70 per month in the first half of 2015. This means that more than two new families are becoming homeless every day. This is how serious the situation is in Dublin and we have seen reports of the deaths of two people who were homeless very near to the gates of the Dáil.
I would like to mention the situation in County Galway. I share the concerns of many there at the increasing number of people on social housing waiting lists in Galway. The recent figures show a 65% rise in the housing waiting list figures for Galway County Council and we have more than 3,000 families on the housing waiting lists for the county. I understand that in Galway city, the number on the waiting list is 4,000. Whether one lives on the west or east side of the city, there are long waiting lists for housing. Families cannot afford to pay the escalating prices in the private rental sector. Many of them are stuck in mortgage debt, but the banks will not deal with them. This is one of the crucial issues they face.
Rent supplement should be increased in order to keep families in their homes.
It would be better than providing lodgings for families, which I understand is costing €3.7 million for the first quarter of 2015. Apart from the massive cost to the State, emergency hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation is completely inappropriate as it is disruptive for families and children. These children may have to move from their schools as a result. The limits on the rent supplement are too low for people to secure accommodation. Figures from daft.ie show an increase in rents of 8.2% since this time last year. In Dublin the rents are up by 11%. This is the situation people are finding themselves in.
I would like to see more support for the voluntary housing sector. I have seen organisations such as Clúid and Respond! do great work in Galway, providing good quality houses. There was an application from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for houses in the town of Ballinasloe, which was approved. Let us be clear; this is just part of the whole issue. There is now a need for investment. If that does not happen, there will unfortunately be a further increase in homelessness.