Israeli Family's 23-year Wait to Receive Public Housing (And It's Not Ended)

Housing and Construction Ministry says wait is down to 2.8 years in most cases, but the Ferbers have been waiting for an apartment since becoming eligible in 1993.

The Ferber family at their rented Ramat Gan apartment. Their debts now total 100,000 shekels.
David Bachar

The Ferber family must hold the Israeli record for the length of time waiting to receive public housing – 23 years. But while the family has trouble paying the rent, the Construction and Housing Ministry is proud of new data showing a decline in waiting times to less than three years.

On March 8, 1993, Angela and Vladimir Ferber, new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, were recognized as being eligible for public housing. “We were happy the state was going to help us,” Angela Ferber recalls. Little did they know that two decades would pass and they would still be waiting.

According to the state comptroller’s 2015 report on public housing, only two families have been waiting for an apartment for more than 15 years, and the Ferbers are one.

In the more than two decades since they were first deemed eligible, they have had five children and had to move home 13 times. Every time the family expanded, the rent went up, they explain. And as the years went by, their health suffered: Angela and Vladimir both receive disability benefits and cannot work nowadays.

Today, the family lives in Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv, on the Ferbers’ disability benefits, which amount to a total of 5,500 ($1,416) shekels a month. They receive rent assistance of 3,000 shekels a month from the Housing Ministry, while their rent comes to 4,500 shekels a month. They have trouble making up the difference and have accrued debts of 100,000 shekels.

But the figures the Construction and Housing Ministry showed Haaretz say that the wait for public housing in the center of the country has been reduced from four years in 2014 to only 2.8 years now. A senior ministry official told Haaretz yesterday, “People only wait a few years. It must be said that there are still people waiting six or seven years. A few are waiting 14 years.”

The official said he had trouble believing the Ferbers’ case and would look into it.

In any event, the shorter waiting time has not helped the Ferbers. In 2012, the ministry informed them: “You are now in first place for a four-room apartment. When an apartment becomes available, you will be the first to receive it.”

Four years on, the family has not been offered any apartment. And for reasons that are unclear, they have now slipped to third in line.

The ministry says the Ferbers have only been on the waiting list since 2012, when their case was transferred from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. In other words, as far as the Housing Ministry is concerned, they have only been waiting for four years – this despite the fact that the eligibility document the Ferbers received from the ministry in January clearly states that they had been eligible for 22 years.

There are currently about 30,000 people awaiting public housing, on two different lists: one belongs to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, with 27,000 families; the other to the Construction and Housing Ministry, with 2,644 families. The move from one list to another and lack of coordination between the ministries is apparently the reason why the Ferbers have yet to receive an apartment.

“This throwing of people who have been waiting for so many years from one list to another is ridiculous,” says public-housing activist Rikki Ben Lulu, of the Forum for Public Housing. “It doesn’t matter what ministry a person waits under; he waits for the state to grant him a house. What, if they’re not considered new immigrants, then they wait as veteran Israelis and that’s something else?”

Since the beginning of Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant’s term, 745 apartments have been purchased – for the first time in about 18 months – after years of massive reduction in the amount of public housing. There are about 60,000 public housing apartments today, down from 120,000 in the 1990s. The ministry has invested more than a billion shekels in purchasing apartments and renovating them, and has moved people into 600 apartments that were standing empty in outlying parts of the country.

According to the senior ministry official, the ministry needs about 1.5 billion shekels a year to continue growing the reservoir of public housing. “To end the wait, the state has to invest a great deal of money every year,” he says. “What we had for this year has been completely used up.”