Affordable Housing, the Haredi Way

Spurred by Shas Interior Minister Eli Yishai, plans move forward in Harish to build homes for less than NIS 450,000.

The Haredi community is working with the government to build thousands of new homes that will sell for less than half-a-million shekels apiece in the planned city of Harish. This initiative indicates that the state can indeed provide affordable housing should it so desire.

The plans are being hashed out by a committee that includes ultra-Orthodox community leaders, developers and ministry representatives. Haredi news outlets have been reporting on the talks for the past several weeks.

According to reports in the Haredi paper Hamevaser and on the website Ladaat-net, the committee is looking for ways to sell the apartments cheaply: three-room, 80-square-meter dwellings for NIS 450,000 or less. To do this, a limited number of contractors will essentially build housing in bulk, while the state for its part will reduce land prices.

Two representatives of each of three different Haredi streams - Sephardi, Lithuanian and Hasidic - have been conferring to discuss the logistics of the new Haredi city planned for Wadi Ara. They have the backing of religious leaders including Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi Aharon Steinman and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.

"The story began because the rabbis wanted to decrease housing prices," said a Haredi journalist who is covering these developments.

Rabbi Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, asked Interior Minister and party leader Eli Yishai to advance the matter. To that end, over the past few months Yishai has approved multiple detailed plans for building at the site. These are incorporated in Harish master plan No. 1, for 8,000 housing units, and master plan No. 2, which is for another 1,500 units but has encountered objections.

TheMarker asked the ministry which committees had approved these plans, and ministry responded laconically: "The plans are in force due to the minister's approval."

Yishai himself did not respond to requests for comment.

Harish is currently home to 300 families who are not ultra-Orthodox, but planning authorities intend to enable Haredi to move in en masse by building dwellings that particularly suit their needs.

The town's current residents have been fighting the initiative, and have received the backing of MK Nitzan Horowitz.

"I support inexpensive construction and major discounts on state land, but these steps should benefit everyone, and not just a group associated with the interior minister," said Horowitz, adding that Yishai's actions prove that "when the state wants to, it can offer houses for less than half-a-million shekels. Too bad this is being done only for a specific sector."