Gov't Gets 90 Days to Set Housing Rules

High Court of Justice ruled last week state must decide whether affordable housing should be limited to people who work.

The state has 90 days to decide whether affordable housing should be limited to people who work, the High Court of Justice ruled last week.

It also needs to explain why it isn't canceling the criteria set by the Israel Lands Administration for the Mehir Lemishtaken affordable housing program, even though these criteria go against the cabinet's recommendations.

"There were protests, then there was the Trajtenberg Committee's report, the government made declarations, an agreement was signed with the Finance Minister over the criteria, and then out came an entirely different suitcase, in some kind of process, and no one knows what's going on inside it. Someone opened the suitcase and changed things up inside," said Justice Isaac Amit.

The court hearing was held last Wednesday. The criteria are crucial for determining the nature of a given community - whether it will be secular or religious, for instance, parties stated during the hearing.

However, while the cabinet decided to adopt the recommendations of the committee led by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg regarding eligibility for affordable housing - which called for requiring that applicants work at least part-time - it never discussed actually implementing this, and passed the actual decision on to Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias and the ILA.

The Trajtenberg recommendations were received a full year ago. Now, the government wants to delay discussing them yet again, for another four months, until after the election.

Atias is a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Many ultra-Orthodox men do not work, and thus would not be eligible for the Trajtenberg committee's criteria.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed by Israel Beiteinu MK Faina Kirshenbaum and other parties against the government, seeking that all Mehir Lemishtaken tenders be frozen because the current criteria favor the ultra-Orthodox.

"The ruling shows the court is not comfortable with how Atias handled himself. I hope that this is the first step toward dropping the inegalitarian criteria and doing justice for young families and people who contribute to the country," she said.

The Housing and Construction Ministry stated in response that the court had not bowed to the petitioner's demand that Mehir Lemishtaken projects be halted. "The court did not discuss whether the criteria should be considered invalid, and the ministry can continue issuing tenders," it stated. "The court session involved the constitutional question of whether the cabinet needs to discuss the criteria."

Atias stated in response that he is campaigning for reduced-price housing for all the country's young families.

"After 18 years of ministers from parties that claim to represent everyone, I was the first one to give clear preference to people who served in the army and served the country - the state needs to give back to them. But the state does not need to prefer the haves over the have-nots," he said.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz