ILA approves disputed affordable housing program

Israel Land Administration approves Construction Minister Ariel Attias's heavily criticized bill.

By NADAV SHEMER,
January 30, 2012 15:49
3 minute read.
The Pagoda House, loosely based off a US café.

Pagoda House 521. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

The Israel Lands Authority’s managing council approved Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias’s affordable housing program Monday, despite criticism from within the government over the exclusion of workforce participation from the eligibility criteria.

A last-minute agreement between Attias, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to increase the weight given to military service ensured the vote passed. The program now requires Steinitz’s signature for it to come into effect.

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The affordable housing program stipulates that the ILA publish “price for occupancy” tenders according to the following criteria: 45 percent of units will be allocated to families with children aged three years or more; 35% to families with children aged one or two; and the remaining 20% to individuals aged 35 or more, or to families without children.

Priority will be given in half of the tenders to specific sectors of the population, according to a points system: Men who served in the Israel Defense Forces will receive 20 points, and – following the last-minute amendment – women who performed military or national service will receive 10 points.

Married couples will be eligible for up to 70 points – depending on how long they have been married – instead of the 80 points originally proposed by Attias.

“The purpose of this change is to make the Israeli dream come true for young couples, and allow them to buy a home,” the prime minister said at a Likud faction meeting on Monday.

Netanyahu spoke out against critics of the program who argue it discriminates against families in which both parents work, saying that two-thirds of the homes would be allocated to such couples. The other third is not only for haredi families, he said, adding that there are non-haredi lower-income families where only one of the parents work.

The prime minister said that one of the most important factors in housing reform is location. He said he asked the director-general of his office to head a committee that will ensure that affordable homes be built throughout the country, to ensure there are “equal opportunities in housing for all segments in society.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Israel Beiteinu party opposed the program when it was unveiled last week, called the new standards for affordable housing “a step in the right direction, but not enough.”

Israel Beiteinu will not accept the new standards if they do not give priority to those who work and pay income tax, in addition to those who serve in the IDF, Lieberman explained.

“This is the way Israel Beiteinu wants to see the standards, and we will act to make it happen.”

Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov of Israel Beiteinu said that Netanyahu and Shas’s Attias will have to “answer to the public that took to the streets this summer” to protest the housing crisis. Meseznikov said the program must be brought to the cabinet for approval, and called on Netanyahu and Attias to do so as soon as possible, to avoid “unpleasantness” in the coalition.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also criticized the program while speaking at the weekly meeting of his Independence faction, and said it needed to be revised.

All opposition parties except for the National Union highlighted housing in their weekly no-confidence motions in the Knesset. None of the motions passed.

Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students and a vocal critic of the program since its unveiling, said Netanyahu’s last-minute intervention was unsatisfactory, and demanded the prime minister intervene to make participation in the workforce one of the conditions for receiving affordable housing.

Rabbi Uri Regev, director of religious freedom advocacy group Hiddush, said the program promoted “social injustice, rather than social justice,” and accused Netanyahu and Steinitz of being motivated by politics and currying favor with the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Giving preference to married couples constitutes “a humiliation and disregard for the needs of the vast majority of the public, who risk their lives serving in the army, but who get married much later than haredi couples,” Regev said.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.


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