Officials promise more permits to ease east J'lem housing shortage

Hadash MK claims municipality is using planning tools to achieve ideological goals.

east jerusalem 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
east jerusalem 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Within the next two years, building violations in east Jerusalem will decline by a significant and the current housing shortage that affects the city's Arab sector will be nearing a solution - these were the assurances made during a Knesset Interior Committee meeting Wednesday. MK Hanna Sweid (Hadash) initiated the hearing on the issue of building permits issued for residents of east Jerusalem, arguing that only 13 thousand dunams of land in the east of the city are zoned for residences, in an area currently used by 250,000 residents. Sweid complained that there are serious problems of overcrowding and that the lack of new plans to enlarge the area have exacerbated illegal building. "The Jerusalem Municipality and the authorities are using planning and building tools to achieve political and ideological goals, such as achieving a demographic balance," said Sweid. According to Efrat Cohen of the organization Bamakom, the total land area considered part of east Jerusalem is 70,000 dunams, of which approximately 23,500 are devoted to building Jewish neighborhoods. "East Jerusalem residents have a unique restrictions in the conditions [according to which] they are given building permits, including proving ownership of the land. This causes a very serious logjam," she added. The approval process for receiving building permits in east Jerusalem is approximately two-and-a-half years. Other speakers at the hearing addressed the lack of land available for public institutions such as preschools, early childhood clinics and youth clubs. But the Interior Ministry's Jerusalem District Planner Dalit Zilber said a solution may be in sight. "About a month ago, discussions began in the district committee about its preparation of a general plan for Jerusalem and we hope that by the end of the year the plan will be submitted. Regarding east Jerusalem, the plan suggests density and [allowing] building up to six stories, whereas today, the majority of houses in the area are two floors," she said. Zilber did acknowledge that green areas are lacking in the area, as are spaces reserved for public and community institutions. And the building permit situation, municipality representatives argued, is already improving. According to data presented, the district committee approved 2,400 specific plans in east Jerusalem over the course of 2007, as opposed to 315 plans approved in 2003. Tzahi Katz, the Jerusalem Municipality's Director of Planning and Supervision, said that part of the reason for the delay in approvals was a lack of appropriate manpower among licensing reviewers. The municipality, he said, had already added an extra part-time reviewer. "Because we foresee an increase in the number of applications from the area, we added a second part-time reviewer," Katz explained. "The increase is expected because of increased enforcement against illegal building projects. Illegal building in east Jerusalem declined by [a significant percentage] in the recent years." Katz did, however, add that there is a parity of about two to three months in the time it takes to get a building permit in east Jerusalem, as opposed to other parts of the city. MK Yohanan Plessner (Kadima), who presided over the meeting, warned municipal and ministry officials that if "need arises, the municipality and the Interior Ministry must consider passing on group instruction [information] sessions for people interested in submitting building permits." Plessner added that he believed that the building plan presented to the committee is likely to solve the question of housing in east Jerusalem and that the authorities must continue to enforce laws prohibiting illegal construction.