Israeli Government Failing to Provide for Thousands Entitled to Public Housing

Waiting list for government housing stands at about 10,000 veteran citizens and 50,000 new immigrants; petition prepared by Center for Legal Assistance is asking for compensation for those still waiting for housing.

Maya Zigov, a 41-year-old single mother from Jerusalem, has waited for housing for the past five years. According to Housing Ministry regulations, she is entitled to public housing, but given the lack of available apartments, all she has is a number: She is third in line.

"When I got to the list of those waiting for public housing, I was last," Zigov said. "They wrote to tell me that I am entitled to housing, and then - I have no idea how it happened - I rolled to 18th place."

Maya Zigov Jerusalem protest camp -  Olivier Fitoussi - August 8 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

For now, Zigov is staying at the Jerusalem protest tent city. This is not the first time that she and her four children - the youngest is 2 years old - have lived in a tent.

"Five years ago, I was evicted from an Amidar apartment, and I was in a tent for three months," she said. "I spent that entire time during the winter in the rain. In the end I got to an apartment and the owner wanted NIS 2,200 in rent. Now they want NIS 3,200, but I can't pay that when my salary is barely NIS 3,000."

There are many like Zigov. The list of those who are entitled to housing, but who are still waiting for the government to provide it, stands at about 10,000 veteran citizens and another 50,000 new immigrants. The waiting time in large cities can be more than six years. The Housing Ministry grants rent subsidies for those waiting for a place to live - about NIS 1,250 per month - but the subsidies are not enough to pay for an apartment under current real estate conditions.

Housing Ministry officials admit that over the years the rental subsidy has lost its value, though they note that it was never meant to cover the entire cost of rent. They claim that they have been pressuring the Finance Ministry to increase the rental subsidy, which they say has lost 30 percent of its value.

While in the past year there have been additional homes allocated for public housing, they have not been used for the general public actually entitled to them. The few dozen apartments are reserved for handicapped people and those in desperate economic conditions. These are the first homes to be purchased in 20 years for those entitled to public housing.

A petition has been prepared at the Jerusalem District Court - which also functions as a Court for Administrative Affairs - that could help people like Zigov if judges agree to even some of the demands.

The petition - prepared by the Center for Legal Assistance, which operates on behalf of the Justice Ministry and represents a number of women waiting for public housing - is asking for compensation for those who are still waiting on housing.

The petition stands on principle: If the state is unable to provide housing to citizens it considers entitled, it must provide them with an appropriate alternative, or the cost of renting an apartment on the open market.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has already written about problems in the management of public housing. According to a 2008 report, the state sold at least 26,000 public housing apartments between 2002 and 2009 through the Housing Ministry and through the public housing firms Amidar and Halamish. This brought in some NIS 2 billion for the state. However, not a single apartment was added to the reserves for public housing, contrary to the public housing law, which requires the state to invest that money for buying new apartments.

"This set of priorities is leading families without apartments and in need of public support to have nearly no chance of housing," the report states.

Zigov says she simply cannot afford to make payments on an apartment. "I work with the elderly, 80 hours a month," she said.

"I have two children in special education, and the psychologists keep telling me that they cannot deal with the pressure," she said. "Obviously since they do not have a secure roof over their heads, we simply do not give them a normal home. I have debts, and I am a working person."