Civil society wins public housing battle

30 January 2014

Thousands of Israelis will be able to take a critical step out of poverty, thanks to the efforts of the SHATIL-led Public Housing Forum.

After several years without action, Israel’s Public Housing Law, which was passed in 1998, will finally be implemented due to the Forum’s intensive advocacy work.

“Israel’s public housing law is social legislation of the first order,” said SHATIL policy expert, Danny Gigi. “One third of Israelis live below the poverty line and families spend more money on housing than anything else. Implementation of the Public Housing Law will help thousands of Israelis who have difficulty meeting basic needs like food, medicine and housing, and will significantly reduce the dimensions of intergenerational poverty in the country.”

For the past several years, not only did the government not implement the law requiring it to sell public housing residents their apartments at a subsidized price after five years, but the nearly NIS 2.7 billion the government received from previously sold apartments mysteriously disappeared. The law stipulates that those funds were to be used for building additional public housing units. Instead, they went to cover other government expenses – no one can say exactly what.

“The Forum for Public Housing will continue to fight for those billions that belong to the people who need them for their survival,” said Gigi.

The renewed implementation of the law was accomplished largely through the efforts of MK Orly Levy-Abekasis (Yisrael Beitanu) who, backed by the Public Housing Forum, brought the issue of the Public Housing Law to the attention of the Knesset. SHATIL’s Russian media specialist published articles about Levy-Abekasis’ campaign in Israel’s Russian-language media and the Russian community’s increased awareness, in turn, pressured the government to act.

In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Finance Minister Yair Lapid to enforce the law, and by January, the government announced its implementation and the selling of public housing to tenants recommenced.

However, much work remains. The government also gave subsidized apartments to non-profit organizations, synagogues and other bodies that were not entitled to them, which contributes to the bottleneck of needy people waiting for housing. The Public Housing Forum is fighting to get the government to change this practice.

In addition, it is working for enforcement of a stipulation in the law that requires the government to increase the number of public housing units. These efforts, in addition to work to recover the lost funds, are vitally important as, with the skyrocketing price of real estate in central Israel, additional public housing is vitally needed.