Halamish - Tomer Appelbaum - 07022012
A Tel Aviv lot that the public housing company is selling. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Tel Aviv residents who qualify for public housing may have an especially long wait, as a dispute between the treasury and the Halamish public housing company may force Halamish to sell off the last public housing reserves it has in the city.

Halamish is being asked to pay the treasury NIS 100 million, under a mediated agreement reached after the treasury claimed it was owed money. To pay this debt, Halamish would have to sell a 17.5 dunam plot it controls in Tel Aviv's Neveh Ofer neighborhood.

Halamish has instead offered to build 300 apartments on the plot, most of which would be allocated to public housing recipients, while the other apartments would be sold on the open market and the proceeds used to provide housing solutions in other neighborhoods. This mixed-use policy is meant to prevent public housing projects from becoming pockets of poverty.

The treasury refused the offer, demanding that the debt be paid. Once the money goes to the treasury, however, there is no assurance it will be used to provide public housing in Tel Aviv, where 220 families await homes. There have been no public housing projects built anywhere in the country for 13 years.

NIS 100 million, the treasury said, would be used "for the benefit of public housing throughout the country."

Yuval Elbasan, deputy director of the Yedid Association for Community Empowerment, lamented what he called the treasury's double standard.

"When it comes to the rich, they give in to them and erase debts, but with public housing they bargain over a few lirot from the 1960s," he said. "This just proves that nothing about priorities has changed, and the treasury hasn't internalized what happened last summer."

Halamish was founded in 1961, and is jointly owned by the state and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality. The state lent Halamish some funds to get started, with which it bought land and apartments. The company also rehabilitated neighborhoods, furnishing thousands of housing solutions to poor families in Tel Aviv who met the public housing criteria and paid reduced rents.

In 2004, the state demanded that Halamish, which had begun selling off public housing apartments under the terms of the 1998 Public Housing Law, start paying the proceeds from these and other property sales, as well as rents, to the government as payback on the government loan provided over 40 years earlier. It demanded NIS 210 million.

Halamish insisted it had been making regular payments to the treasury for years, but the treasury persisted. In 2010, both sides agreed to have the dispute mediated by retired Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or.

Or ruled that Halamish owed the state NIS 80 million plus interest and linkage, for a total of NIS 100 million.

An examination of the records shows that Halamish had been selling off properties to private developers without insisting that a portion of the apartments built be allocated to public housing. Records show 43 such transactions over the past 20 years, which brought in NIS 250 million but did not generate a single public housing unit. There is no indication that Halamish used the funds to buy and renovate apartments for public housing recipients anywhere else.

"The money from these sales was used to evacuate and compensate eligible owners in accordance with criteria, and for development and infrastructure work in the neighborhoods," said Halamish.

Halamish at first agreed to pay the NIS 100 million debt by selling the Neveh Ofer property. But the Halamish board, led by new chairman Rachel Turgeman presented the alternate plan, to provide public housing in Neveh Ofer and call the debt paid.

The treasury refused, saying Halamish must honor the mediation agreement. The NIS 100 million, the treasury said, would be used "for the benefit of public housing throughout the country."

Yuval Elbasan, deputy director of the Yedid Association for Community Empowerment, lamented what he called the treasury's double standard.

"When it comes to the rich, they give in to them and erase debts, but with public housing they bargain over a few lirot from the 1960s," he said. "This just proves that nothing about priorities has changed, and the treasury hasn't internalized what happened last summer."