Knesset Committee Cuts Public Housing Rental Subsidies

Decision follows surplus in housing subsidy budget; activists claim that aid criteria are restrictive.

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The Knesset Finance Committee approved on Tuesday a 24 million shekel cut to rental housing subsidies to the poor, with the caveat that it would not apply to the 2014 budget.

The impetus for the cut came from the Finance Ministry, which asserted that the Housing and Construction Ministry’s 1.4 billion shekel rental housing subsidies budget was excessive. Treasury officials claimed that a surplus was left in the program despite all those eligible under the program’s criteria receiving aid. The budget for the program was expanded greatly following the 2011 social justice protests and the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee to address socioeconomic problems in Israel.

Activists from the Public Housing Forum group that participated in the Knesset hearing criticized the move, saying that the eligibility criteria for rental housing subsidies were very restrictive. This, they said, led many families to seek approval from exception committees, which are pressured by the treasury not to approve requests, creating the leftover funds.

“We receive emergency requests from people and the Housing Ministry says it has no budget, so it is infuriating to hear about funds not being utilized,” said MK Dov Khenin (Hadash). He added that the Finance Ministry instructs the exceptions committees only to approve requests for aid that do not meet the regular criteria in “life and death” situations.

Despite the approval of the cut, the Finance Committee has scheduled two additional sessions to discuss public housing and rental housing subsidies. The first session will cover the criteria for housing aid. The second session will discuss the failure to replenish the stock of public housing with the funds received from the sale of public housing to occupants as part of government program that began in 2000. According to Knesset Research and Information Center, the sale of these properties raised in $2.7 billion in revenue.

Amidar housing in Beit She'an.Credit: Yuval Tebol

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