Editorial |

When the State Wants To, It Can

Haaretz Editorial
Ukrainian refugees at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel last week.
Ukrainian refugees at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel last week. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Haaretz Editorial

As part of the state’s preparations for absorbing 30,000-50,000 new Jewish immigrants, the cabinet is to vote Monday on a plan to provide them with housing in the near, medium and long terms (Bar Peleg, Haaretz Hebrew, Sunday).

For the near term, the state plans to use existing properties. Under the plan, 200 uninhabitable public housing units will be renovated, alongside 186 subsidized apartments for older adults “for which there is no demand and which in their current state, are not fit to live in,” according to the Housing Ministry. Another 350 public housing units currently leased to state agencies will be used if needed.

In addition, 600 empty beds in student dormitories will be allotted to families without children. The cabinet is also considering rental assistance to people living with their relatives.

It turns out that when new olim arrive and the government and the country mobilize for the task, it’s possible to do revolutionary things in the realm of welfare. Such as finding the ruined public housing apartments that had been removed from the rolls, aiding non-renters and even subsidizing health insurance for refugees without legal status.

Israel’s public housing stock has dried up in recent decades. Over the past seven years, the state purchased just 2,800 apartments. It currently has 52,000 public housing units and 12,500 assisted living apartments. Successive plans to increase this inventory all failed.

In 2014, the Alalouf Committee on fighting poverty proposed expanding this inventory by 700-1,000 apartments a year for the next 15 years. A 2018 Housing Ministry plan, called “To live in dignity,” was supposed to increase the stock of public housing apartments by 72,000 over a decade. In practice, just 234 apartments were purchased.

Perhaps the anticipated immigration wave will open the government’s eyes and get it to help the thousands of people who have been waiting endlessly for public housing. Two-thirds of them are people whom the Aliyah and Integration Ministry deems eligible for public housing and are waiting for spaces in assisted living facilities. The model the cabinet is to vote on Monday could also have been used to help the many people in need in the Arab community, which accounts for only a small portion of those receiving assistance.

It’s just a pity that this plan will give priority to new olim rather than the veteran Israelis on the waiting lists, at least with regard to the Housing Ministry’s subsidized housing for the elderly. This situation, in which apartments in an already limited supply are given to newcomers in preference to disadvantaged citizens who have been waiting for them for years, is unacceptable. The government must care for the refugees coming from Ukraine, but it must do so without doing harm to other people in need.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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