Forced evictions of squatters in public housing projects will be halted until the new committee that will determine criteria to force evictions presents its conclusions and examine each case individually, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Elkin said on Monday.
The announcement was made during a special session of the Economics Committee, which was held at the initiative of the committee's chairman, MK Michael Biton (Blue and White) and included Elkin and the Director-General of his office, Aviad Friedman.
In addition, those destined for eviction who choose to evacuate voluntarily will receive a four-month rent assistance package, Elkin said.
"We are attentive to the Knesset and to voices arising from the field," Elkin said at the discussion. "Public housing has been neglected for years. From the moment I took office, I have been working to increase the stock of apartments, whether by purchasing 1,700 housing units for all those eligible and building an additional 3,000 for seniors," he said.
"In addition, we will increase the use of apartments that stood unused due to their dilapidated condition. The budget we obtained from the Treasury will help with this, and so far we have renovated dozens of apartments that stood empty for a long time," he continued.
"At the same time, we understand that there is a fundamental need to update the eligibility criteria [for public housing] that have not been updated for decades, and it is possible that later on, even those who were not eligible will benefit from it," Elkin added.
"Recently, we collaborated with the Finance Ministry in creating a program whereby anyone who is willing to return their apartment consensually will receive rent assistance for four months."
"The decision today is a big step forwards for public housing residents," Elkin concluded.
Each eviction case will be determined based on a general review of familial status, eligibility, welfare status among others, Biton said during the discussion.
"We do not support illegal squatting, [but] we do support preventing future squatting and understanding each case individually, [as] the history of families who required assistance in the form of public housing support is personal, and cannot always be decided by precise criteria," Biton said.
He added on a personal note that "in the 60s and 70s Israel was a poor country but rich at heart and was kind to its citizens - public housing was accessible for those who needed assistance, and I myself grew up in an Amidar [public] apartment in Yeruham, and am proud of it," he said.
He called on the government to find creative and innovative solutions so that the money invested in public housing will be put to good use.
"This is an important step forward for public housing in Israel for welfare and for humaneness. Every citizen deserves to have a roof over his or her head, and it is the state's job to be there when help is needed," he concluded.