Ministry: Housing Deals Put on Hold

Contractors who won tenders to build low-cost housing may not be able to sell the homes, as Housing Ministry's criteria face court challenge.

Contractors who won tenders to build housing under Mehir Lemishtaken, the government's affordable housing program, won't be able to sell the homes to people who meet the new criteria for the next year, say Housing and Construction Ministry sources in response to a recent Supreme Court hearing.

The hearing was held two weeks ago over a petition challenging these criteria and submitted by the Movement for Quality Government, Jerusalem Awakening, Hiddush, the Ra'anana municipality and MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu ).

This means that the sale of 1,200 homes will be delayed in locales including Yokneam, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Nesher, Ramle, Jerusalem and Eilat.

However, sales in West Bank settlements Efrat and Beitar Illit will start within three to four months, the ministry informed the court.

The Movement for Quality Government asked the court to issue a stay of proceedings preventing the ministry from selling these homes in the West Bank. In its petition, it stated that the legality of the eligibility criteria is in question, and is being heard by the High Court of Justice.

In the hearing, the Supreme Court gave the government 90 days to explain why it wasn't adopting the Trajtenberg committee's recommendations for eligibility criteria. That committee, headed by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg and tasked with lowering the cost of living following the summer 2011 protests, had proposed criteria which the cabinet had voted to adopt. The criteria included giving preference to working couples - a clause that would disqualify most ultra-Orthodox households.

The justices found that while the cabinet had voted in favor of the criteria, it never implemented them, and ultimately passed the matter on to Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias and the Israel Lands Administration, which set their own criteria.

These criteria contain no mention of employment. Atias is a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

"Facts should not be created on the ground by selling homes under the Mehir Lemishtaken project based on criteria set without the authority to do so and that ignore the Trajtenberg report," said attorney Dafna Kiro-Cohen, head of the Movement for Quality Government's legal department.

The Housing and Construction Ministry said the sale of land slated for Mehir Lemishtaken projects was delayed over the past year due to Finance Ministry opposition. The land was cleared for sale only in June, and this would delay the sale of apartments by a year, it added.

Eyal Toueg