Netanyahu, Herzog vow to solve housing crisis after election

Politicians from across the spectrum blame each other.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN,
February 25, 2015 20:24
Netanyahu and Herzog

Netanyahu and Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,REUTERS)

 
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Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his challenger, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, promised Wednesday to implement State Comptroller Joseph Shapiro's recommendations on how to solve the housing crisis in the next government that they each intend to form.

“We are taking this important report seriously,” Netanyahu said at a speech in Ma’aleh Adumin. “We did a lot, and the report acknowledges that, but we still have a lot to do, and I will do it in my next government.”

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The Likud said its governments increased construction projects from 32,000 to 47,000 housing units per year and built roads and rail lines connecting the Negev and Galilee with the Center.

The party said 60,000 housing units will be marketed, 80,000 units in the Center will be planned and 100,000 will be built on land in the Center in place of IDF bases that will be moved to the Negev.

Herzog said he would “lead the battle to solve the housing crisis and all my ministers in the government I will form will be my soldiers.”

He thanked Shapira for what he called “a courageous report that proves the failure of Netanyahu, who did not do anything” to solve the housing crisis.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is criticized in the report, attacked Netanyahu while defending himself. He said that according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in his four years as prime minister and finance minister, housing prices fell.



He said they rose during the time of Netanyahu, who “after six years in power should look in the mirror and stop running from responsibility and looking for excuses.”

Former finance minister Yair Lapid said the report proved his party’s claims that Netanyahu is at fault for the housing crisis.

“Years of procrastination, inaction and corruption caused house prices to increase outrageously,” he said at a Forbes Israel event in Tel Aviv. “Until we founded the Housing Cabinet – in the middle of 2013 – Netanyahu didn’t even try to increase the supply and bring down the prices. Until we put into place the national plan to bring down house prices, no one even tried. They just did nothing.

“In a year and eight months Yesh Atid did more to tackle the housing crisis than any other party: A cross-departmental housing cabinet was formed, a wide-ranging national housing plan was formulated to tackle the crisis, NIS 4.5 billion was allocated to remove bureaucratic barriers and progress was made in moving the IDF bases to the South,” he said.

Construction Minister Uri Ariel wrote a letter to the comptroller asking that he complete his report so that it would include the Construction Ministry’s activities in 2013-14. According to Ariel, addressing the last two years will give a better answer to most of the criticism the comptroller wrote and that the actions he took will bring down housing prices.

“When I entered my job two years ago, the Construction Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority noticed the problems and acted intensively to solve them on the ground in many ways, including increasing the supply of homes, breaking the record of homes marketed since the establishment of the state, targeting price tenders, increasing licenses and planning budgets and more,” Ariel wrote.

Koolanu chairman Moshe Kahlon said the public didn’t need a report to understand that there was a problem with housing, because they feel it in their daily lives.

Still, he criticized the report for excluding most of the activity of the last government, particularly Lapid’s Zero 0 Value-Added Tax program.

The plan, he said, “caused immense damage to the Israeli public in general and young couples in particular, and made their dream of an apartment NIS 160,000 farther away.”

He said that when the plan was announced last March, many young couples put off purchases in hope of getting the substantial VAT exemption, but prices continued to rise during that period. In the end, when the plan fell off the agenda in December, young couples rushed back to the housing market facing higher prices.

Kahlon wondered why Lapid continued to endorse the policy in his platform despite opposition from the most senior economists in the country.

“The time has come that those who are responsible for the crisis, starting with the former finance minister and housing cabinet chairman Yair Lapid, will take responsibility and act more modestly when they come to ask for public support once again,” he said.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said politicians should not blame one another, and rather work together to lower the cost of living and housing, since there is a consensus that they are problematic.

“Yisrael Beytenu had clear stances on how to solve the housing crisis,” Liberman said on a visit to Shlomi, near the Lebanon border.

“One of them was having 90 percent mortgages that would go, first of all, to those who served in the army and work.”

MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz), the other chairman of the housing caucus, said the government needs to formulate a new deal for housing with coordination between ministries and a large budget to solve the crisis.

The plan must include public housing, rentals and affordable homes for sale, he added, or the crisis will get worse.

“The report is a 500-kg.

anvil dropped on an irresponsible and spurious government policy,” Gilon said. “This anarchy brought an insane rise in housing prices, turning a home into an unattainable dream for most Israelis.”

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel argued that the state comptroller’s findings indicate that “despite major declarations,” the government’s planning bodies have failed to solve the housing crisis.

The organization called for the cancellations of committees that circumvent both the traditional planning structure and members of the public.

Instead, SPNI favored “a coordination of government efforts, combining forces of civil society, in order to resolve the housing crisis.”

Niv Elis and Sharon Udasin contributed to this report.

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