$500m W. Bank mortgage firm formed

PA unveils plan to build 30,000 apartments over 5 years; Blair project "step in right direction."

Ramallah skyline 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ramallah skyline 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Palestinian government unveiled a plan Monday to build 30,000 affordable apartments over five years and offer $500 million in long-term mortgages. The construction is meant to create thousands of jobs and ease a severe housing shortage. The Palestinians need 65,000 apartments now, and demand is growing by 11,000 homes ever year, officials said. Under the plan, 10 new suburbs would be built in the West Bank and Gaza, each with a commercial center, school and mosque. The Gaza part of the plan will be on hold as long as the Islamic militant Hamas remains in control there, said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who attended the launch of the project. Abbas said such economic development will give the Palestinians more faith in a better future. The housing project "will make Palestinians feel that peace and security is bringing them a better life," he said. The $1.5 billion (€1 billion) construction project will be overseen by the Palestine Investment Fund, which hopes to bring in private investors from the Palestinian territories and the Arab world. Long-term mortgages are rare in the Palestinian territories, where most would-be homeowners save for long periods, borrow from relatives or build their homes over many years. The contributions for the $500 million (€315 million) home finance company will come, among others, from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, the Palestine Investment Fund and the Bank of Palestine. OPIC is the largest contributor with $250 million (€158 million). "In the United States, it's long been said that owning your own home is an American dream," said Robert Mosbacher, head of OPIC. "But the truth is it's a universal dream. We're glad to help making this dream possible for the Palestinian people." International Mideast envoy Tony Blair portrayed the housing project as step in the right direction. Blair has tried to help revive the Palestinian economy, including by sponsoring three West Bank industrial parks. However, progress has been slow, in part because of the reluctance of the Israeli military to remove roadblocks over concerns of attacks by Palestinian militants. "I hope that despite all the difficulties and challenges which everybody knows, today's announcement will give some indications of what is possible," Blair said.