Israel Shifts Criteria for Ranking Public Housing Applicants

The new need-based criteria, which utilizes a point system and will be used by exceptions committees, is still lacking transparency and clarity, critics say

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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Public housing in Or Akiva, northern Israel, in 2018
Public housing in Or Akiva, northern Israel, in 2018Credit: Eyal Toueg
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

The exceptions committees that decide on requests for public housing will begin using new need-based criteria to rank applicants. But critics say the new point system – being implemented by the Housing Ministry in response to a court ruling – still lacks transparency.

About 30,000 cases, or 17 percent of all requests, reach the exceptions committees each year, according to the ministry. From 2017 to 2020 an average of 1,182 requests were approved in the exceptions committees, compared to 909 in the regular committees, meaning that more requests are examined and approved in the exceptions committees than in the regular ones.

In August Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen ruled that the overload in the exceptions committees harms the applicants, and that the ministry must amend the procedures and set clear criteria for eligibility in said committees. The ruling was the result of a discussion of five different petitions regarding public housing for applicants in difficult socioeconomic situations who don’t meet the ordinary eligibility criteria.

The Housing Ministry then made the required changes, which went into effect in February but were only publicized in late March.

Under the new criteria, the exceptions committees can approve eligibility for public housing only for a family or individual with at least 70 points out of a total of 100. For example, a family with two disabled people gets 30 points, one with a child with 100 percent disability gets 25, and an individual with a special services allowance gets 30 points.

Sigalit Levy, one of the petitioners, found herself again ineligible for housing because she lacked 10 points under the new system. She is a victim of serious domestic violence who has become mentally ill, while also suffering from other illnesses. Her request was originally rejected because eligibility requires at least three children under 21, and she has only two living with her.

Now with the new criteria she has 60 points, with 70 as the minimum. She received 20 out of 40 points because she is disabled and 30 out of 30 for income. For exceptional circumstances she received only 10 points out of 30. “I feel as though they gave it to me and then took it back. A person who is disabled, ill, with no family and no income, a post-traumatic person who suffered sexual abuse – isn’t exceptional enough for the committee?”

“The point system is not transparent and there’s no detailed explanation [about the criteria],” said Ayelet Halberstadt-Attias, the attorney in charge of public housing in Tel Aviv’s legal aid. “They give 30 points for ‘special circumstances,’ with the committee deciding on its own without rules. It’s an opening for corruption and lack of transparency. We see that in the case of Levy, whose request was rejected without a detailed explanation, and there’s a bad feeling that the only reason for lowering the points was to prevent her eligibility.”

The Housing Ministry also formed a committee to correct the general criteria for public housing – which have remained unchanged for 20 years. Danny Gigi, chairman of the Public Housing Forum, slammed the ministry for applying a new procedure for exceptions committees and not publicizing it. This seems like “an underhanded move designed to harm the homeless again,” he said, adding that “while attention is focused on the committee drawing up general criteria for public housing, the ministry is already advancing a step to prevent eligibility.”

The Housing and Construction Ministry responded that: “In response to the [court] ruling, the ministry was asked to set tests and criteria for the exceptions committees to use in making decisions. The criteria were established on the basis of the decision-making process previously used in the exceptions committees. Now the public housing committee is working based on the update. This subject was posted on the ministry’s website, including the manner of calculating the points granting eligibility for public housing.”

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