6 families file petition over public housing wait list

Justice Ministry slams Housing Ministry for leaving families in limbo for years.

Tel Aviv apartment 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tel Aviv apartment 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Legal Aid Department of the Justice Ministry filed a petition in the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday on behalf of six families who have been on the waiting list for public housing for years.
The petition, submitted by attorney Roi Hochmi, criticizes the amount of rental subsidy awarded to the six families.
It asks the court to order the Ministry of Housing and Construction to award the six families rental subsidies in line with private rental costs.
It also asks judges to order the Ministry to disclose the criteria it uses to determine how public housing is allocated, including how its priority waiting list is determined.
All of the six families included in the petition are struggling to cope with high rents in the private sector as they wait to be allocated public housing.
All are living in sub-standard privately-rented accommodations, but cannot afford to move.
Some are single parent families and all have several children.
Many have been on the waiting list for public housing for several years – as long as 11 years in the case of one family, a separated mother of four children aged 8 to 17.
Currently renting privately, the woman is struggling to pay her monthly rent of NIS 3,500.
Her husband does not pay child support, and because of this she fell behind with her rental payments and last year was served with an eviction notice.
After she became homeless, the woman and her four children lived in a tent opposite the Housing Ministry until the mayor intervened and helped the woman find an apartment via a haredi charity, where she has lived for the past two years.
Initially, the woman received NIS 1,550 in housing assistance from the Ministry of Housing each month. However, after she and her husband temporarily reconciled in August 2010, that assistance fell to just NIS 600.
Her financial situation is so fragile that she does not know whether she will be able to stay in the apartment for another week, the petition said.
The other five families named on the petition are in similar situations.
“This is the direct result of the negligence of the Ministry of Housing and Construction,” wrote Hochmi in the petition.
One of the reasons the families have waited so long to be allocated public housing is because of the depletion of public housing stock.
This is because there are now far fewer apartments available for public housing, a direct result, Hochmi said, of the government’s policy of selling public housing apartments to longterm tenants at heavily discounted rates.
In some cases, these ‘veteran’ tenants receive discounts of up to 90 percent off the market price when they elect to purchase their state-owned apartment.
Although the Ministry of Housing is supposed to use cash raised by selling public housing apartments to replenish the public housing stock by investing in new buildings, it has not done so, the petition claims.
According to a 2008 report by the State Comptroller, in the first quarter of that year the state sold 26,000 apartments at a total income of NIS 2 billion, but had not added any money to the public housing fund.
As the number of public housing apartments continues to shrink, rental prices in the private sector have skyrocketed, particularly in Jerusalem.
Yet despite hikes in private rental prices, the government has not increased the amount of rental assistance it provides to the poorest families.
Families should be awarded housing assistance in line with private rental costs, the petition says.
According to the petition, a year ago the Ministry of Housing and Construction offered one of the six families the chance to receive an extra NIS 500 rental assistance a month on condition that he gave up his place on the public housing waiting list.
Hochmi slammed that suggestion as “extremely unreasonable,” and said it exploited the petitioner’s distress.
The petition also criticizes the Housing Ministry’s “discriminatory” criteria for allocating public housing, according to which candidates are apparently ranked according to the number of family members and the time they have been waiting for housing.
In practice, this means that a needy family could wait for housing for a decade but be pushed out of the top slot by another family with a larger number of children.
In his request to the court, Hochmi stressed the urgency of the petition. All of the six petitioners are in severe distress and at least one is facing being made homeless if a solution is not found.
“What is the value of political rights and freedom of expression if you don’t even have a roof over your head?” Hochmi said in his petition to the Jerusalem District Court.
“According to the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, the right to housing is one of the most basic rights. It’s one of the fundamental rights of existence.”