Luxury Pads Meet New Criteria for 'Affordable Housing,' Claim Critics

Proposal, which passed a preliminary reading last month, is due to be discussed in a joint session of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee and the Internal Affairs Committee.

A two-room apartment in Tel Aviv's luxury Yoo Towers could be considered affordable housing under new criteria the Knesset is scheduled to review on Tuesday, say critics.

The proposal, which passed a preliminary reading last month, is due to be discussed in a joint session of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee and the Internal Affairs Committee. It is part of an amendment to the Planning and Construction Law.

Moti Milrod

According to critics, the plan defines small apartments at market prices as affordable housing, regardless of what those prices are. The proposal is meaningless because market-price homes by definition aren't affordable, say representatives of protest and social movements, who are planning to march in front of the Knesset on Tuesday in protest.

"The Finance Ministry pulled a fast one," said Dr. Emily Silverman, who is advancing affordable-housing projects. "It objected to affordable-housing proposals, but after a fight with [chairman of the joint committee] MK Amnon Cohen, it agreed to compromise and submit a softened, intangible government bill.

"Under the proposal, affordable homes are defined as small apartments and rental apartments," she added. "There's no mention of price, so this could include a two-room apartment in Tel Aviv's luxury Yoo Towers. This is a long way away from what the public wants. They're simply continuing to lie to the public.

"Everywhere else in the world, affordable housing is housing whose price more or less suits eligible citizens' budgets. It works in the United States and in Europe," Silverman said.

The Coalition for Affordable Housing, an umbrella organization that includes a dozen social groups, said that by not addressing price, the proposal contains misleading use of the term "affordable housing."

"Everywhere in the world, affordable housing costs less than market prices. Its price is set based on what those eligible can pay, certainly not on market prices. If the definition is set based on the current proposal, it will block any local affordable-housing initiatives that call for cheaper homes."

The social groups are calling on the government to change the plan to give planning authorities the power to determine prices and eligibility requirements, and to let local authority heads advance affordable-housing projects within their municipalities.

Over the past few years, various local authorities have attempted to advance affordable-housing projects. At least five such initiatives in the Dan region were frozen by the Interior Ministry because no legal definition existed for "affordable housing."

Should the current proposal pass, these existing initiatives most likely won't be able to proceed because the law would make no provisions for allocating public land to build cheaper housing - something all the initiatives include.

The nonprofit coalition called the proposal "unusual cynicism" and pointed out that it was these very market prices that drove the masses into the streets to protest last summer.

Cohen is expected to oppose the government's stance at Tuesday's meeting. When his proposal passed its preliminary hearing on January 4, this was the first time the Knesset had approved an affordable-housing initiative in any form. But even at the time, Cohen and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias acknowledged that the proposal would be changed significantly before being brought back to the Knesset for its first reading.

Atias said in response that, while the bill did not mention prices, he and his associates believed affordable housing should be sold at half the market's median prices.

Atias came under fire last week after announcing new eligibility criteria for affordable housing. While the Trajtenberg Committee called for conditioning affordable housing on applicants' working and having served in the army, Atias' criteria gave weight to the number of children applicants have and the number of years they have been married.

This makes them similar to the previous criteria for Mahir Lemishtaken housing projects, which have been roundly criticized for helping primarily ultra-Orthodox families - the main constituency of Atias' Shas party.