Channel 2: Gov't supports housing of haredim only

High Court due to rule on alleged discrimination in allocation of Mahir L'Mishtaken apartments.

housing biz feat 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
housing biz feat 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haredim are the only sector of Israel's population that can currently buy relatively inexpensive apartments under the Housing and Construction Ministry's "Mahir L'Mishtaken" program, Channel 2 reported Friday evening. The little-known Mahir L'Mishtaken initiative has been operating for over a decade in an attempt to make housing available to citizens of limited financial means. The government sells state-owned land to contractors, but rather than seeking the highest bidder, awards the tender to the contractor who promises to sell the apartments for the lowest price. Buyers snap up apartments at a 15 to 25 percent discount. But according to Channel 2, haredim - while by no means Israel's only low-income population - comprise the population able to take advantage of Mahir L'Mishtaken housing in recent years. In 1999, the report said, 1,350 apartments were constructed under the auspices of the program in the haredi city of Elad, compared to 1,000 everywhere else in Israel. Since 2000, the report continued, all the Mahir L'Mishtaken apartments constructed have been built in haredi cities, where illegal "population committees" can screen and approve - or reject - potential residents. Of the 3,500 apartments constructed since then, 60% (1,957) are located in one city - Betar Illit. All 1,750 families who have purchased Mahir L'Mishtaken apartments are haredim, the report stated. The watchdog group Am Hofshi petitioned the High Court of Justice against the sale of Mahir L'Mishtaken housing to haredim only, claiming discrimination. Then-Supreme Court justice Dorit Beinisch ruled in favor of the petition, criticizing the practice of "giving preference to one [population] sector without examining the needs of the rest of Israel's population... and using public funds to the advantage of one sector [only.]" Beinisch ruled that the housing discounts given to Elad purchasers under the program were illegal because they "harmed the principle of equality. The housing problem is the same for every needy family." Yet despite the ruling, Channel 2 said, the practice continues. In January, the High Court of Justice is due to reexamine the practice when it rules on a petition filed by the Reform Movement against the sale of the government-subsidized apartments to haredi residents only. In the meantime, it has frozen the sale of Mahir L'Mishtaken apartments for the current year. The Housing and Construction Ministry said in response that the Mahir L'Mishtaken program gave no preference to haredi purchasers. According to the ministry, various non-haredi municipalities have refused to take part in the program because they "don't want [economically] weak residents."