Politicians point fingers as house prices up 5%

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, who is vying for the premiership, said that the failure to tackle home prices lies with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog
Candidates in the March 17 general election traded barbs, blame and bile over the cost of housing Monday as the Government Appraiser’s report revealed another 5 percent increase in home prices in 2014.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said that the failure to tackle home prices lies with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The programs of a finance minister or construction minister will not solve the housing crisis. Only the prime minister can deal with it,” he said at the Globes Real Estate and Infrastructure Conference in Tel Aviv, where many candidates took the stage to point fingers and bolster their own plans.
As far as Netanyahu was concerned, he continued, “young couples could live on the street, as long as he can stay in power and continue doing nothing.”
Herzog promised to consolidate housing bureaucracy under one portfolio, intervene in the rental market, cut the price of land tenders from the Israel Lands Authority, and create affordable housing by offering free land to contractors who build it.
Koolanu leader Moshe Kahlon, who hopes to become finance minister, pitted primary responsibility on Yesh Atid leader and former finance minister Yair Lapid.
“Lapid supplied zero solutions and only newspaper headlines. This is a missed opportunity of historic proportions,” Kahlon said. “Lapid must not go back to the Treasury. We cannot give second chances and gamble again on fictitious programs.”
Kahlon’s plan is to take apart the ILA altogether and introduce private companies to compete down the price of planned land.
Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said that plan would cause “chaos,” and that it would never happen because it would require enacting 15 different laws.
He pointed a finger at Lapid for getting stuck on the much-critiqued zero-VAT plan, which he said derailed better plans moving forward.
In response to a question on building beyond the Green Line, Ariel said he wishes he’d been able to market more than just 4% of units there.
Ariel also trumpeted an increase in housing starts, and predicted that prices would indeed come down in 2015 – assuming his political rivals didn’t take office.
Lapid, in the meantime, said that Netanyahu was responsible.
“Netanyahu stopped the arrival of 15,000 foreign workers from China that would have boosted the construction sector because he was afraid of what they would say at the Likud Central Committee,” Lapid said.
He also said he welcomed an upcoming state comptroller report on housing, which he said would show the steps Netanyahu had taken on housing.
“What he cares about is to ensure that nobody else gets a political victory, even if it comes at the expense of the Israeli public,” Lapid said.
Lapid’s former “brother” in arms, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, said at a different event that the comptroller would do better to examine Lapid for “holding the State of Israel hostage to the fanciful zero-VAT [bill].”
Meanwhile, the Bank of Israel announced a drop in interest rates from the already historic low of 0.25% to a new nadir of 0.1%, a move that will spur more demand in the housing market. The move came despite good growth figures from the last quarter and a healthy employment market.
Netanyahu took to Twitter to praise the 5.6% unemployment rate, one of the lowest among advanced economies, and Bennett was quick to take credit.
Shas leader Arye Deri shot back that the two should do something about the 144 workers being laid off from Israel Chemicals, where an ongoing strike over the down-sizing has shut down operations at major plants in recent days.