Government Aims to Reduce Public Housing Supply

Housing Minister Uri Ariel tells TheMarker that the goal is to focus more on rent subsidies for Israelis eligible for public housing.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel on Sunday said that the Housing and Finance ministries aim to significantly reduce the supply of public housing over time and rely instead on rent subsidies for Israelis eligible for public housing.

Such an approach "allows flexibility, which the supply of public housing lacks," Ariel told TheMarker on Sunday. "Today, a person who lives in Netanya and is eligible for public housing is told there’s an apartment only in Mitzpeh Ramon. He shouldn’t have to move there and there's no reason for him to move there.”

Ariel said that all revenues from the sale of public housing would be transferred to the Housing and Construction Ministry for three purposes: buying apartments, renovations for some of the properties that need them, and rent subsidies. As for how these three purposes would be prioritized, Ariel said that has not yet been determined and is still being discussed with Finance Ministry officials.

Earlier Sunday, the Knesset’s Lobby for Public Housing asked the chairman of the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee, Avishay Braverman, to convene an urgent meeting because he felt the proposed measure would lead to “a drastic reduction in the number of public-housing apartments available.”

Other MKs from various political parties signed a letter that was sent to Braverman, reading in part: “While the Public Housing Law, which is about to go into effect, indicates that all revenues from the sale of public housing be used to buy and build new units that would increase the supply, the ministers' statement raises concern that most of the funds from the sale of apartments will be sued for rent subsidies rather than renewing the supply of public housing. This move will drastically reduce the existing supply of existing public-housing apartments."

The letter was signed MKs Dov Khenin (Hadash), Orly Levi-Abekasis (Yisrael Beiteinu), Ilan Gilon (Meretz), Miri Regev (Likud) and Itzik Shmuli (Labor).

It continued: “From our experience, and from the experience of social-affairs organizations that assist residents of public housing and those eligible for it, there are many problems with the rent-assistance model, and many who receive such assistance cannot rent housing with it. Worse still, the rent assistance could lead to higher rent prices. This drastic change in direction in the public-housing sphere has terrible social implications and requires serious discussion in the Knesset before it is put into effect.”

However, Ran Melamed, deputy director for communication and social policy at Yedid, a non-profit organization dedicated to social affairs, welcomed the measure.

 “The state must maintain its obligation to make sure every Israeli citizen receives suitable housing," Melamed said. "As long as the recipient meets the eligibility criteria, long-term rental at a realistic rent paid by the government, whether given in the form of rent assistance or eligibility for long-term housing in a state-owned apartment in a housing project, is the right way to act.”

Emil Salman
Ofer Vaknin