PM Proffers New Plan to Lower Home Prices

This is the government's fifth attempt in recent months to slow down the rise in housing prices, after the first four efforts failed to do the job.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a plan yesterday to speed up construction of thousands of new residences. He will ask the cabinet on Sunday to approve his proposal to establish a new national planning committee, which would provide a single address for approving such construction plans - and circumvent the regular local and regional planning bodies.

Netanyahu called a press conference in the Knesset yesterday evening to present his proposal for the new National Housing Committee.

Benjamin Netanyahu

"Building plans in the process of approval will be marked specially as plans for accelerated construction," said the prime minister. "A list of 50,000 units will be continuously updated. When one plan is taken off the list after being approved, frozen or canceled, another plan will be added to the list in its place."

The government will decide which projects make the list based on criteria to be determined by the Housing and Construction Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration, Netanyahu explained.

Among those who attended yesterday's press conference were Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was missing.

This is the government's fifth attempt in recent months to slow down the rise in housing prices, after the first four efforts failed to do the job. The Bank of Israel has raised interest rates and limited mortgage financing, while the Finance Ministry placed limits on purchase groups and changed real estate tax policies - but housing prices are still climbing.

Netanyahu said his plan will lead to the construction of thousands of residences within 18 months.

A number of MKs said the timing of the prime minister's announcement was not coincidental, but came just as the Knesset is debating a number of no-confidence motions. Shas said it would skip the votes if its proposed law to subsidize mortgages was not advanced.

Knesset members said the timing could also be related to Netanyahu's appearance yesterday before the State Control Committee on the deficiencies of the firefighting services.

According to Netanyahu, there is a shortfall of 10,000 new units a year, and all told there is now an accrued shortage of 60,000 to 100,000 units. He said that planning wasn't the only problem, and that more land had to be marketed for new homes by the ILA.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the prime minister's latest attempt to rein in housing prices. A number of heads of local authorities, along with planning professionals, called it yet another government attempt to advertise a solution to the public before it was ready. In their estimation, it is not clear which planning committees Netanyahu wants to circumvent, and it is not at all clear whether these panels will lend a hand to the new national committee.

"Too many committees and too much talk accomplish nothing. They are always establishing new committees just so they can create new slogans, but slogans don't solve anything," said Holon Mayor Moti Sasson.

There's no need for a new committee, he argued. Instead, Netanyahu could just delegate more power to local authorities and strengthen the existing planning committees.

Sasson said Netanyahu should learn from his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin, who provided young couples with land at a 91% discount - and thousands of homes were built.

Not all developers dismissed the plan, however, with some hoping the new committees would actually shorten the approval process and cut down bureaucracy.

Raz Smolsky, Shlomit Tzur and Ranit Nahum-Halevy contributed to this report.