Knesset set to begin vote on pivotal housing bill

PM says passing bill is the only way to build new homes; housing crisis talks interrupt FADC meeting.

Knesset session 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Knesset session 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Knesset began the second reading of Netanyahu's housing bill on Monday, in discussions that stretched into the afternoon.
According to Netanyahu, the National Housing Committees bill is the culmination of "two years of hard work in clearing the clogged pipes blocking the housing market," and will allow the government to be "much more active in responding to the citizens' needs."
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The bill's reading will continue on Tuesday, in a special plenum discussion that will begin five hours early. The third and final reading and a vote are set to take place on Wednesday.
The National Housing Committees Bill is one of the central components of Netanyahu's housing reform plan. The bill is meant to circumvent usual construction planning bureaucracy in order to build new homes. The bill would allow for the temporary formation of national housing committees, which would work to accelerate the process of approving building projects in the next year and a half.
There will be one committee in every region in Israel, which will be responsible for providing all of the authorizations necessary to begin construction only for projects with over 200 homes built mostly on state land and include "accessible housing."
Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) said that the bill shows that his party is "helping solve the housing crisis, as opposed to the opposition, which only has populist suggestions."
The housing bill became a point of contention in a Monday morning Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, with committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) criticizing Netanyahu on his social policies.
"The middle class is paying for your failures and the failures of your government in socioeconomic matters," Mofaz said, adding that the 2012 should be changed to reflect new issues.
"We need to watch out for abstract statements about cutting the defense budget," in favor of the welfare budget, Netanyahu responded. "Without responsible management of the market, Israel can find itself in a similar situation as other states that have lost control of their economies."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin quipped: "Every time there are talks about cutting the defense budget, it ends up being increased."
Referring to the possibility of riots following a UN vote on Palestinan statehood, Mofaz asked: "Will thousands of young [demonstrators] be asked to wear army uniforms in September because of your lack of initiative and unwillingness to lead a diplomatic process?"
Likud MKs Miri Regev and Ofir Akunis, as well as MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) protested Mofaz's use of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting to discuss the housing crisis, calling the move "political."
MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) pointed out that when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister, a housing reform was instated, which lead to thousands of homes to be built.
"The faucets have gotten much tighter since then, but we are trying to turn them," Netanyahu responded. "The National Housing Committees Bill will be passed this week, which is the only way to stop bureaucracy and build many new homes."
Later Monday, MK Arye Eldad (National Union) said that the prime minister's "clogged pipes" metaphor gives the wrong impression.
"The government is trying to present this bill as something that circumvents the bureaucracy, but thousands of homes have already been approved and aren't built," Eldad explained.
"A contractor that buys land and passes through the committee does not have to hammer even one nail for five years," he added. "For five years he can hold onto the land, wait for prices to go up, and not build one new apartment."
"I am in favor of skipping the planning process, but if you want homes now, have the law require they be built within 12 months, not five years."