Infrastructure Standards for Housing in Israel May Be Eased

Measure contained in Budget Arrangements Law would let builders challenge need for access roads, sewage.

Nimrod Glickman

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is so determined to get new homes onto the market as quickly as possible to rein in soaring prices that he is prepared to let contractors build neighborhoods without providing basic infrastructure.

Property developers will be allowed to appeal decisions requiring them to ensure that their projects include access roads and interchanges, adequate sewage treatment facilities, and public institutions like schools and parks, according to a plan contained in a draft version of the Budget Arrangements Law.

Current planning rules require large housing projects to have a minimum standard of infrastructure. In many cases, contractors can in practice act on only a fraction of the building approvals they have won until a new highway interchange or sewage-treatment plant is completed.

While on paper the infrastructure requirements make sense, for years treasury officials have complained that district planning committees have used them to needlessly delay construction, thereby contributing to the housing shortage that has caused prices to climb 110% since 2007.

It was the same rationale that prompted the treasury to propose a fast-track system for building approvals that enables builders in some cases to bypass the planning committees.

Avigdor Yitzhaki, the chairman of the National Planning and Building Committee and Kahlon’s point man on housing issues, made it clear last month that the treasury is determined to accelerate construction at all costs.

“I won’t wait for roads to be paved in order to build homes. I can’t tolerate the idea that people will have no place to live – even if it means they have to wait two hours for public transportation every day,” Yitzhaki told the committee, calling home construction the highest national priority now.

But not everyone is convinced the local planning committees are simply obstructionists.

“Approving the clause in the Arrangements Law will open the door to nightmare neighborhoods, with no infrastructure, no parks, no access roads and no public transportation,” warned Amit Bracha, an attorney and executive director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.

He called the planning committees the bodies that “ensure an appropriate quality of life.”

The proposed change comes under a section of the Arrangements Law that will enable contractors to appeal planning committee rulings on infrastructure prerequisites. The mechanism for that will be a new sub-committee of the National Planning and Building Committee that will be able to overrule local bodies if the local body fails to respond to contractors’ appeals within 21 days.