Atias Blames Mayors, Treasury in Housing Crisis

The mayors want to build large homes to attract well-off populations, and not young families, says Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias.

Israel lacks affordable housing because the municipalities in the center of the country don't want it, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias said over the weekend.

As the tent protest calling for affordable housing raged, and tens of thousands rallied outside Tel Aviv's Habima Theater last night, Atias (also an MK for Shas ) slammed the Finance Ministry and mayors for contributing to the problem.

The mayors want to build large homes to attract well-off populations, and not young families, he said.

The treasury objects to Atias' proposal to build and sell 5,000 homes on state-subsidized land through an existing reduced-cost housing project, called "Diyur Lamishtakhen." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is believed to be onboard to adopt the proposal.

The treasury argues that 60% of the homes sold through that project go to Atias' ultra-Orthodox sector, since they are earmarked for families with at least four or six children.

In response, Atias released the program's statistics for the first time. In 2010, a total of 2,422 homes were offered for sale, and 330 of them were in Haredi areas.

Of the 2,422 homes, only 1,398 were sold, because large tenders for construction in Rosh Ha'ayin and Ashkelon failed due to a lack of interest by contractors.

This shows that the program does not favor Haredim, argued Atias. Rather, its problem is that the Finance Ministry insists on auctioning off the land at full price.

The Finance Ministry says the tenders failed because the program's qualifications favor Haredi families, and therefore there weren't enough potential buyers in non-religious locales.

Atias admitted his program would not directly help the tent city protesters, since the program's homes are intended for the lower classes while the protesters are largely middle class. However, he has been trying to advance his program for a year and a half, and now - by virtue of the tent protest - he's finally received an audience, he said.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu announced Friday that the government would be presenting solutions to the housing crisis soon. He did not elaborate.