Shas demands accessible housing in government reform

Knesset members tussle over planning and construction bill; Meretz MK Horowitz says reform will only serve the rich.

Apartment in Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Apartment in Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Knesset Interior Committee chairman Amnon Cohen (Shas) said on Thursday that he is fighting to include “accessible housing” in the Subcommittee on Reforming the Planning and Construction Bill.
As people continue to demonstrate across the country, voicing opposition to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recently approved National Housing Committees Law, the joint Interior-Economics subcommittee has been working on a long-term reform in planning and construction, to little fanfare.
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Despite being the subcommittee’s chairman, Cohen has threatened to vote against the government reform if specific language to build accessible housing is not part of the bill.
“I became the head of this committee three months ago, and I already said then that a bill with such far-reaching consequences cannot pass without mentioning accessible housing,” he said.
“Shas has been saying that the housing crisis is very serious in the haredi and the general population for years,” he explained.
Echoing statements by Shas leader Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Cohen said the party “proposed a housing plan years ago, but the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry said it was too expensive.”
While the newly passed National Housing Committees Bill will be applicable for a year-and-a-half in large construction projects that fit certain criteria, Cohen is working on 619 pages of comprehensive changes to planning and building codes, which have been mostly unchanged since 1965. Both bills are meant to shorten the bureaucratic process in planning new construction, but the reform in the planning and construction bill would change the entire planning hierarchy in the long term.
“This bill is for the coming generations that are on the horizon,” Cohen explained.
“The government needs to think about young people, and make sure they stay in Israel by providing security, jobs and a roof over their heads.”
In a meeting earlier this week, MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said he is not optimistic about the prospect of accessible housing being included in the bill.
“This is a matter of values, not a technical issue,” he said.
“The prime minister thinks that the market is responsible for citizens, not the government.
The result is that the state has abandoned its citizens.”
Henin also said the committee should demand that the state build homes for its citizens.
The government proposed the reform in planning and construction long before the current protests, and the Knesset has been working on the bill for over a year. Cohen predicts that it will take at least another six months to complete the work on all of the bill’s hundreds of clauses in the committee’s weekly fivehour meetings.
Usually, Cohen is the only MK in the meetings, where he discusses the bill with workers from relevant government offices.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) has attended a number of committee meetings, and has voiced opposition to the bill, not only in connection to accessible housing.
“This bill will severely harm planning processes,” he said.
“Planning is an important part in social, economic and environmental policies.”
“The reform will trample planning and prevent important bodies from being a part of it. It will block the public from participating by withholding information and preventing appeals, thus making planning hasty and inadequate,” Horowitz explained.
The Meretz MK added that the bill does not take access roads into account, nor does it plan for public buildings. He also said it allows for poor construction quality and does not consider the environment.
“The reform in planning and construction mainly serves entrepreneurs who want to make money quickly, while making the public suffer,” he said.
In response to complaints about the bill, Cohen explained that “environmental and social organizations often send comments before the meeting, and we check them and try to change the bill accordingly.”
He added that the committee takes into consideration complaints and ideas from engineers, architects and lawyers as well.
“People have a lot of things to say about this bill, and we try to give everyone a chance, because in the end, we want this to be a good, helpful, balanced bill,” Cohen said.