Israel's Proposed Housing Plan Diverted to Serve ultra-Orthodox

Having a job will be dropped as an eligibility requirement for affordable housing.

Yet another aspect of the Trajtenberg recommendations for social and economic reform is being adjusted to suit narrow sectoral interests: Having a job will be dropped as an eligibility requirement for affordable housing.

This means that most of the homes built under the affordable housing program, Mehir Lemishtaken, are likely to go to Haredi families, as happened in the past.

Ariel Atias and Benjamin Netanyahu - Tomer Appelbaum - כככ07112011
Tomer Appelbaum

The committee headed by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg had recommended making employment a requirement to be eligible to buy a home sold through the program. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to Housing Minister Ariel Atias' demand that this be dropped, despite Netanyahu's promise to Trajtenberg that he would pass his recommendations in full.

Most of the Trajtenberg recommendations are likely to be brought before the cabinet for approval next week. The tax recommendations already passed, with two modifications for the benefit of big business.

As part of measures to solve the country's housing shortage, the Trajtenberg recommendations include a plan to sell land at a discount to build 5,000 units of affordable housing. The homes would be sold through the existing Mehir Lemishtaken program.

Under the program, contractors who win tenders buy the land at a discount, but then are obligated to sell the apartments at less than market prices to people deemed eligible for affordable housing.

In order to be eligible, buyers will need to meet several criteria. The Trajtenberg committee had recommended mandating that in the case of families, both parents be working. But Atias and his ultra-Orthodox Shas party objected to this, since it would make Haredi families less likely to qualify. Ultra-Orthodox men often are registered as full-time yeshiva students and have a particularly low workforce participation rate.

Instead, Atias and Netanyahu agreed that that the Israel Lands Administration's controlling council would set the criteria. Knesset sources said that the council, which is headed by Atias, would most likely drop the clause that Shas didn't like.

In 2010, 65% of people who bought homes under Mehir Lemishtaken were Haredi - far more than their percentage in the population at large.

Netanyahu has not yet been able to get his cabinet to pass the Trajtenberg recommendations due to the objections of Shas and United Torah Judaism, another ultra-Orthodox faction.

Several weeks ago, the cabinet passed the recommendations in principle.

After the full recommendations get through a cabinet vote, they will be presented to the Knesset as a government-sponsored bill. At that point, the Knesset will have to vote them into law.

The ultra-Orthodox parties have criticized the recommendations for not calling for the construction of state-funded public housing.

Public backs Haredi employment reforms

Meanwhile, a survey found that 78% of the country's Jewish population supports implementing every aspect of the Trajtenberg committee's recommendations regarding integrating Haredi men into the workforce.

The survey, conducted for the nonprofit Hiddush - For Religious Freedom and Equality, found that 90% of non-religious Jews support the reform, while 94% of Haredim oppose it.

The Trajtenberg report includes far-reaching recommendations for fixing distortions in the economy, one of them being Haredi men's low workforce participation rate. It called for forcing Haredi primary and secondary schools to teach core subjects including math and English, and not funding yeshiva studies for adult Haredi men for more than five years each.

Support for the recommendations was particularly high among people who voted for the parties in the coalition, Hiddush noted.