Protests Alone Won't Fix Israel's Housing Crisis

As long as there is a serious shortage of apartments, prices will continue to rise; this is why there is a need for concerted efforts to increase supply.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

It started with the cottage cheese rebellion and has now moved to a protest over affordable housing. But while the issue of milk prices is relatively easy to resolve, the issue of housing and rental prices is a much bigger and more complex problem.

There are no shortcuts or magic formulas. You can't lower rents by subjecting them to price controls. It won't work. The introduction of rent control would mean the development of a black market, with landlord simply demanding part of the rent "under the table." And the moment the law allows landlords to charge a specific sum, the said sum will automatically become the minimum everyone will charge - and rents will go up even in neighborhoods that are less desirable.

As long as there is a serious shortage of apartments, prices will continue to rise. And this is why there is a need for concerted efforts to increase supply. Nearly two years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the "mother of all reforms" to resolve the housing shortage, saying the Israel Lands Administration must be transformed into a "lands authority" that would flood the state with land for construction and thus lead to a drop in land prices. Last Monday, however, a bill Netanyahu submitted to advance the issue failed to pass.

Netanyahu also suggested shortening the procedures - now very cumbersome and expensive - needed to get building plans approved, so that new buildings could go up more quickly and the price of construction could come down. But this move has also got stuck in the Knesset.

There's more: It's difficult for young people to move to the Tel Aviv suburbs while working or studying in the big city because our public transportation system is relatively backward compared to most of the world. It's difficult to live in Bat Yam, Holon or Yehud, and to get to Tel Aviv by public transportation in a reasonable amount of time, since government after government failed to invest enough in roads, trains or bus lines, and never built a subway system in the Dan Region, although it's been talked about for 40 years.

Another solution to the housing problem would be to allow the construction of very tall residential towers, which would substantially increase the supply of apartments and reduce their cost. Absurdly enough, most mayors oppose the building of apartment towers for various reasons, thus blocking a way to reduce the pressure.

There are things that can be done. The government has to make an effort to resolve the problem and allow residents a reasonable life.

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