Netanyahu: Gov't needs to simplify housing procedures

PM says planning c'tees are among most cumbersome in world, need to be reformed; Steinitz: Housing prices likely to drop by end of year.

netanyahu cabinet meeting_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
netanyahu cabinet meeting_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday reassured those protesting against the country's soaring housing prices that as early as this week a series of measures will be taken to reduce housing costs and simplify planning and building procedures.
"Apartments are too expensive because there are not enough of them.  There are not enough apartments because a government monopoly holds more than 90% of the land in Israel and it is not releasing it," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
"First of all, it is not releasing it for planning because there are planning committees, the most cumbersome in the western world or nearly so, and it takes five or more years to plan an apartment in Israel.  It is not releasing it because when an apartment is planned, in order to market it, there is another cumbersome body, called the Israel Land Administration, which releases it very slowly, at very high prices," the prime minister said.
"[I]n order to change this, it is necessary to bring about a fundamental change, to break the government monopoly, to simplify the planning and building committees and to simplify the ILA and change it into a body that markets the land of the state of Israel for the Israeli people," he said.
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Netanyahu pointed out that there are 45,000 apartments this year which are new construction projects, but "It is not enough."
"This week, we will do two major things. One, we will pass the ILA reform and the reform of the planning and building committees, so that the 'supertanker' may take off. It hasn't yet and this will be the first thing," Netanyahu said. "The second thing, we will take a series of focused steps in order to help young couples, students and other needy populations in the next 1-1.5 years until the major housing supplements come into force."
Earlier Sunday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz also commented on the housing issue, telling Israel Radio that the government has been discussing the housing shortage for almost two years and people have already begun to feel the effects of cost regulations in housing across the country.
Steinitz estimated that housing prices will drop by the end of 2011 or early 2012.
The finance minister's comments come after thousands gathered in central Tel Aviv Saturday night for a rally against soaring housing prices and the high cost of living.
The rally, which was the country’s biggest social-issues demonstration in years, brought together people from tent cities across the country, who have been camping over the past week, as well as tens of thousands of other Israelis.
Amid increasing protests against the housing issue, Steinitz told Israel Radio that the government is trying to catch up on an almost 10-year delay in the housing market, and whoever claims that the problem can be solved within a few months is "mistaken."
The finance minister also expressed disappointment over opposition in the government to housing reforms that would shorten the procedures for obtaining approval for new housing projects.
Steinitz denied in the interview reports of tension between himself and Netanyahu, calling the reports "laughable."
Labor MK Isaac Herzog, also speaking to Israel Radio, said Steinitz's comments were "fishy" and that the government must intervene immediately in the apartment rental market and in building procedures.
According to Herzog, Netanyahu and Steinitz have long "ignored the warning signs" over the housing issue, some of which he himself sent.
Ben Hartman contributed to this report.