Advocacy groups slam housing law ahead of Knesset vote

Plan would create fast-track for approving housing projects, cut out crucial regulation that would allow building in protected areas, SPNI argues.

By
February 16, 2014 19:09
2 minute read.
View of Jerusalem construction project.

Jerusalem construction 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A variety of advocacy groups, spearheaded by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, attacked Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s housing law, which Knesset committees will begin to prepare for its final readings on Monday.

The plan, which would create a fast track for approving housing projects through a new institution, cuts out crucial regulation that prevents building in protected areas, SPNI argued on Sunday. From the recreational parks in north Tel Aviv to the Carmel Forest, the group warned, new real estate would encroach.

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A Finance Ministry spokeswoman said that the new regulations would run in parallel to existing planning processes.

“We are in a crisis in the housing market and need to take aggressive and quick steps in order to take care of the high cost of housing,” she said.

SPNI deputy CEO Nir Papai acknowledged that “we are all aware of the housing crisis. We feel it in our flesh. We have families. But there are other ways to deal with it. Planning is critical in a state that will become the most crowded in the Western world.”

Haimi Schneider, an architect at the Planning Forum, said that the law misdiagnosed the problem in the housing market.

“There is no planning failure; there is a failure of implementation,” he said. He recommended a step-by-step assessment of the processes involved in new housing to identify the obstacles and inefficiencies therein.

For example, many delays stem from local authorities failing to build new infrastructure in a timely manner, which delays the construction process, he explained. Instead of taking steps out of the process, he said, the government should find ways to push through the steps faster.

In the long run, he said, only building more in the country’s periphery would improve the housing crisis.

Social equity organizations further criticized the plan for not adding more affordable or public housing to help the country’s poor.

More than one million people in Israel live in poverty, and many spend the majority of their income on housing, according to Yael Ben-Yefet, director of The Democratic Rainbow group. “This law spits in the face of these people,” she said.

Affordable housing, she argued, should not be created by designating a certain number of small apartments to be built that would be cheaper due to their size.

Instead, she said, the government should introduce price control on some apartments, and allocate them for struggling populations.

The housing plan is part of a multipronged approach to fill the deficit in housing that has caused a spike of some 80 percent in real estate prices since 2008. The government is also signing a series of “umbrella agreements” in strategic cities to fast-track housing projects and provide upfront financing for infrastructure, and trying to strengthen the long-term rental market.

An International Monetary Fund report released Wednesday cautioned that plans to bring the market down should proceed with caution; if they drop too quickly, it could lead to a recession.


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