J'lem: Ministry Tailored Affordable Housing Tender to Haredim

This is another saga in the opposition to the tender for land within the Country complex in Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood, as reported in Haaretz last month

The Housing and Construction Ministry manipulated prices in an affordable housing tender to tailor it to the ultra-Orthodox community - after blocking an attempt by the Israel Defense Forces to acquire the land to build housing for career soldiers, the Jerusalem municipality has charged.

This is another saga in the opposition to the tender for land within the Country complex in Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood, as reported in Haaretz last month.

The tender has drawn opposition from the Finance Ministry as well, which reportedly believes the area is too expensive to justify an affordable housing tender.

Under such tenders, land generally is sold at a discount so houses built on them can be offered at below-market prices.

In this case, the Housing and Construction Ministry adjusted the land's asking price based on development costs so the housing would suit the Haredi community, alleges the municipality.

Last week, the Israel Lands Authority's exceptions committee rejected the ministry's third request for a tender to build 166 homes on the Mehir Lemishtaken affordable housing project at the site, alongside 128 rental homes. The ILA was acting in response to the Finance Ministry's objections.

A 100-square-meter apartment in Ramot currently sells for about NIS 1.8 million. The IDF's housing authority had expressed interest in the plot in the past, but had wanted to sell homes to career soldiers for no more than NIS 1.2 million. But this would not have been possible due to the high land prices there, so the IDF dropped the idea.

'Illogical land use'

With this in mind, Finance Ministry sources reportedly say it's illogical to now be slating the land for an affordable housing project.

To make the specifications suit an affordable housing project, the Housing and Construction Ministry stated that the land value worked out to NIS 300,000 per unit for each of the 108 apartments to be offered eligible buyers, say critics. One of the criteria for Mehir Lemishtaken projects is that the land per housing unit be worth no more than NIS 400,000.

However, developing the site is likely to be expensive - a relatively high NIS 350,000 per apartment - thus further reinforcing arguments that the site does not suit Mehir Lemishtaken.

The municipality's Ramot community association complained to the state comptroller over the affair, calling on him to examine the Housing Ministry's conduct.

"The Jerusalem municipality and the community association worked for a year with the IDF's housing authority to implement the cabinet decision to encourage security force members to move into the city, by means of exempting the plot from the tender process. To everyone's surprise, the project was blocked amid claims that the land and development costs were too high. And now, immediately after the IDF's attempt to build there failed, the [housing] minister has published a tender that would have this expensive land sold under Mehir Lemishtaken," wrote the community association head, attorney Zeev Lendner.

In response, the Housing Ministry stated that the tender is intended to serve all segments of the population, particularly young families, and that it was drafted after extensive meetings with the Finance Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality. The Finance Ministry declined to respond.

Daniel Bar-On