Rivlin meets with housing crisis activists ahead of confab
Rivlin addresses representatives of 20-plus social welfare organizations, most of which focus on the housing crisis, in advance of the second Housing Crisis Congress.
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
Just as there are no short cuts to confidence-building between Israel and the Palestinians, there are no short cuts to social justice and solutions to housing problems, President Reuven Rivlin said on Sunday.He was addressing representatives of 20-plus social welfare organizations, most of which focus on the housing crisis, in advance of the second Housing Crisis Congress due to take place at Tel Aviv- Yaffo Academic College on November 8.The organizations came to the President’s Residence as an umbrella group to discuss an escalation in the crisis due to the fact that although thousands of apartments have been built all over the country in recent years, few of them are affordable for young couples.The crisis has brought together groups from different backgrounds and social strata, in what they believe to be an unprecedented joint national endeavor to solve a critical problem which instead of ebbing, keeps mounting as the population increases.Protest movements for social justice captured media headlines a little over four years ago. Despite government declarations that the cost of housing would go down, housing costs have soared by 27 percent.Because the intensity of the crisis affects so many people from nearly all sectors of Israeli society, it was decided that the upcoming congress should be held in conjunction with the nation’s decision- makers so that consensus can be reached on the crux of the problem and its solution.The congress is being spearheaded by the bureau for social communication headed by Shir Nosatzki and Regev Kontas, who were among the original social protest leaders, as well as Tel Aviv-Yaffo Academic College through its president Prof. Shlomo Biderman along with the National Association of Students headed by Gilad Arditi.According to Nosatzi, there is a tendency to say that the protest movements triumphed because they succeed in creating public awareness, but awareness is not enough to secure a bank mortgage.When the protesters went out into the streets in 2011, she said, all they asked for was suitable housing at a reasonable price, and the issue was so important that it brought more people into the streets than did the Iranian threat or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.The problem not only continues to exist but has exacerbated, she stated. It’s time, she said, for the public to propose a feasible program that can be implemented in a relatively short time. This is the main reason for convening the congress.Issues raised during the discussion included the need for public housing for single mothers, the thoughtlessness of the Israel Lands Authority and the Interior Ministry when allocating land for housing projects, because most of these projects are nowhere near public transport, which means they are available only to two-car families; the discrimination against the Arab sector, which is denied building permits even though in 60 percent of the cases, applicants own the land on which they want to build; impossibly high mortgage rates and lack of dormitories and other housing facilities for university and college students, who suffer the most from the housing crisis because they are constantly moving from one rented apartment to another while ownership of an apartment remains a distant dream.Also discussed was the lack of community infrastructure in peripheral communities.In his previous government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw as a solution to the housing problem more affordable housing in peripheral areas. But many of these areas, it was pointed out to Rivlin, have inadequate community infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, cultural centers, shopping centers, public parks and playgrounds and other amenities that people in Tel Aviv take for granted.Reminding his guests that two of the original protest leaders are now members of Knesset, Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli of the Zionist Union, Rivlin advised the group to take the housing issue to the parliament. Housing it a matter of paramount importance, he said, and after security, should be a top national priority.