Israel's Waiting List for Public Housing to Grow Threefold in Ten Years

The ministry’s internal forecasts show that if no dramatic change occurs in the inventory of public housing the number of people on the waiting list is expected to reach almost 28,000

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Public housing in Or Akiva, northern Israel, February 2018
Public housing in Or Akiva, northern Israel, February 2018Credit: Eyal Toueg
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Internal Housing Ministry documents indicate that the waiting list for public housing in Israel is expected to grow threefold in the coming decade and total 28,000 people.

The ministry calculated the number of families waiting for public housing, both through the Housing Ministry (3,968 families and disabled persons, some living on their own, and whose number rose by 50 percent in the past two years) and through the Absorption Ministry, for a total of about 9,000 families in 2018, Haaretz and Yedid (the Association for Community Empowerment) have learned.

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The documents were presented to the public housing committee headed by ministry director-general Hagai Resnick. Finance Ministry representatives were ousted from this committee this week, with Resnick saying they tried to thwart the program. It is not clear in what format the team will continue its work or whether it will convene again tomorrow as originally planned.

The ministry’s internal forecasts show that if no dramatic change occurs in the inventory of public housing and the Housing Ministry continues to acquire housing units at the same pace it has for the past three years (in which 2,000 units were purchased), the number of people on the waiting list is expected to reach 27,860.

The Housing Ministry estimates that the waiting list will grow by more than 1,700 families per year. The ministry made a further calculation which found that even if enough housing units were acquired in 2018 to cover the entire current waiting list, without regular and massive acquisitions, in 2019 the public housing waiting list would shoot up to 1,731, then to 3,463 in 2020 and 17,313 by 2028.

The ministry also foresees that barring a massive purchase of housing units, the number of public housing units will continue to erode so that by the end of the coming decade, these units will total just 1.74 percent of the total number of housing units in Israel, significantly lower than in many European countries, where public housing units sometimes account for as much as a quarter or third of all housing units, according to an international survey.

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In Holland, the percentage of public housing units is 34 percent, in Austria 26 percent, in Denmark 22 percent, in France 18.7 percent, in Britain 17.6 percent, in New Zealand 5.8 percent and in the United States 4.3 percent, while in Israel the current percentage is just 2.5 percent. The Housing Ministry calculations show that if Housing Minister Yoav Gallant’s “To Live in Dignity” plan, which seeks to add 72,000 public housing units within a decade, is adopted, in 2028 Israel will reach 4.06 percent and overtake Hungary, Germany and Japan in the percentage of public housing units. If the plan is not adopted, the proportion of public housing in Israel will go down to 1.74 percent.

In 1959, public housing units accounted for 23 percent of the total housing units in Israel, but the rate has steadily declined since then, due to a halt to construction and the sale of these apartments to tenants. In early 2000, there were more than 107,000 public housing units in Israel; today the number has fallen below 60,000.

“The lack of solutions for public housing is a ticking social time bomb. If the government does not take serious action to follow up its decision to prepare a genuine, funded emergency plan, we can expect to see tens of thousands of people who are eligible for public housing end up in severe hardship,” says Yedid deputy director Ran Melamed.

This week a fierce dispute arose between the housing and finance ministries after the Housing Ministry director ousted Finance Ministry representatives from the steering committee for the “To Live in Dignity” plan, on the grounds that they seemed to be attempting to thwart the plan’s implementation. Resnick said yesterday that the Finance Ministry informed him that the plan to increase the stock of public housing units would not be allotted any budget, and so he decided to oust the ministry’s representatives on the committee.

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“Zero budget, that’s what they told me they would invest,” he said. “I was explicitly told – ‘You led the committee, you got yourself into this and you’ll get yourself out of this, there won’t be any budget.’” Adds Resnick: “These are typical bureaucrats who create committee after committee to no end. That’s not what I’m here for. The public housing tenants are too important.”

The committee was established in late July to make recommendations on a government plan of action to increase the stock of public housing following a cabinet decision on the matter.

The document also shows that top Housing Ministry officials feel the eligibility criteria for public housing should become more flexible, and that even now there are many more families that should be eligible for public housing. Currently, only families with three or more children who have been living on public assistance for more than 24 months, or disabled persons who meet the strict eligibility requirements, are entitled to public housing – and this comes to less than 4,000 families.

The document indicates that the Housing Ministry seeks to adjust the criteria so that another 24,571 people would be eligible for public housing: 17,461 disabled individuals, 2,850 single-parent families that receive alimony but not public assistance, 400 homeless people and 3,860 couples and single individuals who do not meet the “income test” and live on very low wages, i.e., a couple whose total income is 5,685 shekels ($1,580) or a couple with two children that lives on 7,633 shekels.

Currently, single-parent families with three or more children living off support from the National Insurance Institute, due to second parent’s failure to pay child support, are not eligible for public housing. As Haaretz reported yesterday, just 25 million shekels are required from the Finance Ministry to include such families on the list of those eligible for public housing assistance, but the Finance Ministry says there is no source of funding to pay for this.

Melamed also presented the Resnick committee with a number of proposals last week for immediate solutions to create an inventory of housing units that would be rented by the government, via the public housing companies, and given for free to those eligible for public housing until their eligibility is fully realized.

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Says Resnick: “In this way the government would relieve the tenants of the need to go in search of apartments, when it is very difficult to find guarantors or even checks to prepay rent, which many of those eligible do not have.”

Other models that the organization proposed to the committee include developing a long-term, supervised rental market designated for those who have an eligibility certificate for public housing and those who receive rental assistance; shared rental units for older single tenants who cannot afford to rent decent housing with the rental assistance they receive; and converting apartments belonging to the Development Authority into public housing units.  

In response to Resnick’s ousting of Finance Ministry representatives from the committee, the ministry’s deputy budget director, Ariel Yotzer, sent a scathing letter to Resnick, saying the Housing Ministry could find money for public housing in its own budget if it had its priorities straight.

“The Finance Ministry is prepared to help you rethink budget priorities and focus the budgets of the Construction and Housing Ministry toward public housing, which you have defined as an acute need that is underfunded,” Yotzer wrote.

He noted that Resnick had been in his position for three years, “And during that time, the Construction and Housing Ministry has found it proper to allocate budgets to various issues, which, important though they may be, certainly don’t correlate with your statements about the importance you ascribe to dealing with public housing. For example: soccer clubs, courses for the psychometric exam and professional training, the agricultural volunteers project, advancing a heritage project to mark the falling of the Nili underground and more.”

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