Housing in Israel - Not Just for Haredim

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must reject the current proposal for criteria for public housing, which is biased towards the ultra-Orthodox.

Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias (Shas ) unveiled the new criteria for getting subsidized housing from the state on Wednesday. The main criteria continues to be the number of children in the family: Families with three or more children will get the highest priority. The second criteria will be the number of years married, while the third will be army or national service and reserve service.

Under public pressure, Atias indeed improved the criteria somewhat to benefit the middle class that works and serves in the army, but these criteria will still primarily benefit the ultra-Orthodox, since they marry young and tend to have three small children at an age at which their counterparts in the secular middle class aren't even dreaming of marrying.

Since Atias assumed his post he has concerned himself mainly with the Haredim. During the past three years, they are the ones who got most of the subsidized apartments, under the "mehir lamishtaken" plan, which awards contracts to developers who commit to the lowest price to the homebuyer.

The Trajtenberg Committee tried to change this distortion by adding another criteria to qualify for subsidized housing - "fully exploiting earning capacity," but failed. Because to Atias it was clear that if there would be a need to prove that one or both parents were working, or at least trying to find work, the Haredim would be out of the picture, replaced by the middle class.

Last summer's social protest came from the heart of the middle class, which works hard, pays taxes, and serves in the army and in the reserves, but Atias doesn't represent them, so salvation won't come from him. This is where the prime minister, who has been zigzagging on this issue, ought to intervene.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may see Shas as his "natural ally" in the government, but he is responsible for the entire public, not just the Haredim. After all, Netanyahu committed himself to implementing the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee, which stated, "Preference should be given to populations who are fully exploiting their earning capacity but whose salaries are low." Atias' criteria do just the opposite.

Netanyahu must prevent these criteria from being submitted to the Israel Lands Administration and get the government to pass other, more correct criteria, in accordance with the Trajtenberg Committee recommendations.