Housing Minister's pro-Haredi Housing Plans to Be Revised

Atias raced to the press with the new affordable housing criteria, but neglected to run them by Netanyahu or treasury, say sources.

Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias announced the new criteria for affordable housing eligibility this week before they had been approved by the prime minister or other ministers. His contentious plan is likely to be changed considerably before going into effect, sources said over the weekend.

Atias presented the new criteria on Wednesday. The announcement drew fire because the criteria ignored the Trajtenberg committee's proposal to give preference to people who performed army service and couples where both parents work. Instead, they included measures that were likely to favor the ultra-Orthodox, who are the main constituency of Atias' Shas party.

Netanyahu and Atias - Olivier Fitoussi - 29012012
Olivier Fitoussi

Atias' plan would not pass, a senior source in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau told TheMarker.

The housing minister raced to present the plan to the media before showing it to any of the ministries with a say in the matter, said sources at Netanyahu's bureau. Netanyahu spoke to Atias by phone before the latter held his press conference, but was not told the details of the plan.

"In the best case, the plan will undergo changes," said the senior official.

Netanyahu will not be addressing the details of the plan until Atias officially presents it to him, said the sources.

Finance Ministry sources said Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was not given the details of the plan, either. The government was likely to change the criteria drastically so they would favor people who work and who served in the army, said the sources.

Tomorrow, the Israel Lands Administration's steering committee is scheduled to meet in order to approve the criteria. However, they will still need Steinitz's signature before they take effect.

Netanyahu may freeze Atias' plan because it could create a coalition crisis with the Yisrael Beiteinu party and because it has raised significant public criticism, said sources.

The committee headed by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, charged with drafting plans for social and economic change, had recommended giving preference to people who served in the army and to couples where both partners work. They recommended a minimum of 125% employment - meaning one partner could work full-time and the other could work 25%, or any other combination that adds up to at least 125%.

Employment rates in the ultra-Orthodox community are low. It is customary for men to study at yeshivas instead of working. Also, most Haredim do not serve in the army. Ultra-Orthodox families frequently have many children.

Previous affordable housing sales have been criticized for primarily helping Haredim.

The current criteria call for allocating 20% of affordable housing to couples with no children, 20% to families with 1-3 children, 30% to families with 4-6 children, and 30% to families with seven or more children.

Atias' criteria call for allocating 20% of apartments to singles above age 35 or childless couples, 35% to couples with 1-2 children, and 45% to families with 3 or more children. Married couples will receive an extra 10 points for every year they have been married, up to a maximum of 80 points, and people who served in the army will receive an extra 15 to 20 points in half of all apartment sales.

Atias' plan drew fire from Prof. Trajtenberg himself last week, saying the criteria had nothing to do with social justice.

MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud ) said Atias' proposal was likely to reawaken last summer's social protests, and that the next round could be more powerful than the last protests.