Netanyahu Is Main Culprit in Israel's Housing Crisis

Likud would have us believe housing report shouldn't have been released so close to election. But the public deserves as much information as possible.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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The Arlozorov tent city in Tel Aviv this month. Housing prices continued to rise this year.
The Arlozorov tent city in Tel Aviv this month. Housing prices continued to rise this year.Credit: David Bachar
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Likud leaders were enlisted in recent days to try to prevent the release of the state comptroller’s report on the housing crisis.

MK Miri Regev asked the attorney general to block its publication on grounds that rival parties would use it against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of the election. Minister Silvan Shalom termed the report “marginal,” and argued that public discourse should focus on the real issues, like Iran, Hezbollah and the Islamic State group; housing can wait. MK Yariv Levin said releasing the report so close to Election Day is “a scandal the likes of which we haven’t seen since the state was founded.”

In fact, the opposite is true. The state comptroller had been working on the report for a long time and the date of its release was set in advance; it was the election that was called suddenly. If the comptroller had postponed publication until after the election, as Likud officials are requesting, the delay would have constituted improper political intervention.

Moreover, the public ought to have as much information as possible before it goes to the polls — not just about Iran and Israel’s ties with the United States, but also about critical quality-of-life issues like the cost of housing.

The report addresses the six years between 2008 and 2013. During this period, housing prices shot up 55 percent in real terms, while rent went up 30 percent in real terms. The first year in this period was Ehud Olmert’s responsibility, while Netanyahu was at the helm the other five.

The comptroller found that the Olmert government failed to identify the looming housing problem. Nor did it hold any strategic discussion of the issue or take any steps to halt rising housing prices. It even made a significant error when it decided, in August 2008, to stop initiating construction in the center of the country in an effort to divert demand to outlying areas.

Then early elections were called, and Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009. Since then, he has had nearly six full years to do something about skyrocketing housing costs.

He could have immediately canceled Olmert’s plan. He could have forced the Israel Land Authority to sell 60,000 housing units annually to meet the pent-up demand. He could also have shortened the time needed to complete the planning and registration processes; today it can take 15 years from the time the ILA identifies land for construction to the time the building can actually begin.

None of these issues were addressed properly over the past six years, and the one who bears responsibility for this is Benjamin Netanyahu.

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