7,743 Holocaust survivors are stuck in limbo while they wait for public housing in Israel, and it does not look like they will receive the accommodation anytime soon.
The last government budget included funding for 2,000 small apartment units, designed for the elderly in old-age homes, in a bid to reduce the waiting list for public housing.
However, between delays in construction and meager rent subsidies, the Holocaust survivors seem to have fallen between the cracks of the welfare system.
Valery, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor from Bat Yam who immigrated to Israel with his mother in 1999 when he was 60, and she was 84, has been waiting for public housing since his immigration.
When he was two years old, Germany invaded the region of Ukraine and he, like many others, fled from Donetsk to the east. Describing his immigration years later he says, “When we went to the consulate in Kharkiv, we knew that the issue of housing was difficult, so we asked what we could expect. The ambassador said, ‘Your mother is old, and you are not young either – you will get public housing, and it’ll be okay.’ They misled us.”
Since immigrating, he has received a rent subsidy, but his landlord will be raising the rent soon. “I am starting to lose both my patience and my health. If they don’t give us public housing, I will have to pay much more rent. I no longer believe I’ll be getting an apartment,” he says.
For welfare workers who spoke with Haaretz, the public housing shortage is exacerbated by the poor conditions of the homes which currently house the individuals.
They cited the case of a woman living on the top floor of an apartment building who could no longer leave her building because it was not equipped with elevators and her health had deteriorated so that she could not climb stairs. Only after the story was reported in the media was an elevator installed.
Another case they cited was that of an elderly survivor whose building suffered disruptions like power cuts, broken elevators and blocked access due to construction work nearby. He is number 6 on the waiting list, but has been waiting a long time.
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“Close to a third of Holocaust survivors receive an income supplement, and many of them live in public housing – or worse, wait years for it,” says attorney Yael Havassy-Aharoni of Tel Aviv University’s Clinic for the Rights of Holocaust Survivors and the Elderly.
“The financial aid paid to those on the waiting list isn’t much and is far from covering the cost of rent, especially in today’s market. So, thousands of Holocaust survivors find themselves living in poverty without a permanent roof over their heads till the day they die.”
According to figures obtained by Haaretz, five Holocaust survivors are on the Construction and Housing Ministry’s waiting list with the rest on the Aliyah and Integration Ministry list. In 2017, the State Comptroller published a report on state aid to survivors, according to which 16,000 survivors were then waiting for public housing – more than double the number currently waiting.
The numbers have since been reduced by survivors who have entered nursing homes or died, ministry official say. Over 15,500 survivors died last year alone, according to the Social Equality Ministry.
Fewer than 1,000 subsidized apartments have been allocated by the Aliyah Ministry per year, the State Comptroller's report said. For its part, the ministry stated that since 2018 it has found housing for about 2,000 survivors each year, either in apartments or in old-age facilities.
While the government committed to adding 2,000 housing units for those eligible for public housing, the rent subsidies provided have not been adjusted for the rising cost of living.
Danny Gigi, the director of the Public Housing Forum, says “even today, the housing and finance ministries have no strategic plan for coping with the tens of thousands of families waiting in line for public housing – the disabled, the elderly, single mothers and their children who bounded around between apartments in the free market because an ineffectual government chooses to engage in land speculation and provide more and more benefits to developers and contractors.”
In response, the Housing Ministry said "we understand the problems of those on the waiting list for public housing and are doing what we can to ease them. A big step in that direction has been an increase in the stock of public housing and assisted-living facilities amounting to thousands of units, approved in the last state budget.
“About 2,000 housing units of assisted-living facilities are now under construction and are scheduled to accept their first residents in the next year," the Housing Ministry said.
"Another one million shekels ($300,000) has been allocated for renovating and improving access in public housing where Holocaust survivors are living,” it added.
The Aliyah Ministry estimates that 18,000 out of the 26,000 people who are on its waiting list for public housing are elderly. An agreement was recently reached between the housing, aliyah and finance ministers under which those eligible through the Aliyah Ministry will get priority on waiting lists for assisted-living facilities over those on the Housing Ministry list.