Hagit Sigawi, Underdog and Public Housing Hero

3 March 2016

publicHousingHero_lgHagit Sigawi, 35, was born in a public housing apartment in Be’er Sheva. Today, after living on the streets and in a protest tent, she resides with her husband and five children in a public housing apartment in the Negev development town of Ofakim. Hagit is one of the founders and leaders of a group of Be’er Sheva women fighting for public housing and a member of the Shatil-led Public Housing Forum. Her story is an inspiring account of the triumphs and challenges in the struggle for public housing in Israel.

Born to parents who divorced shortly after her birth, Hagit spent the first two years of her life in a Jerusalem orphanage. Although two of her natural siblings were put up for adoption, Hagit was less lucky, since as a baby she was paralyzed from the shoulders down. At five, she says, she stood up, began walking, and slowly improved. With the courts as her guardian, Hagit moved in with her grandmother — where she said she was regularly abused, beaten, and cursed — and attended a boarding school from ages 7 to 17.

Today, she is strong and healthy, proudly stating that she graduated high school with a full matriculation certificate and completed her army service.

“I am a kind of Cinderella,” she says.

After a long road full of obstacles, Hagit finally received the keys to a public housing apartment this past January. While her personal housing problem was solved, she continues to work for the housing rights of others, partnering with Shatil and the Public Housing Forum, advocating for reforms such as easing criteria for eligibility for public housing in the Negev.

Hagit’s Be’er Sheva group receives guidance from Shatil, including an eight-session course developed in collaboration with the group, in which they learned about housing rights, lobbying, media relations, and strategies and best practices for public campaigns. “We have a very good relationship with Shatil. They really upgraded our group and our capabilities,” says Hagit.

Hagit’s success is part of a larger struggle whose successes include major progress on one of the Public Housing Forum’s main goals: restoring public housing units to the public that were illegally transferred to NGOs, synagogues, and hospitals. Following a significant amount of work by the Forum, the Housing Ministry recently announced that within a month, it would develop a program for this exact purpose.

Last week, Shatil advocacy expert Danny Gigi appeared on Channel One News to talk about a police investigation into bribes taken by public housing officials. To combat this kind of corruption, the Public Housing Forum is pushing a law promoting transparency in public housing, which is now heading for a second and third vote in the Knesset.

“In the 1970’s, 23% of all housing in Israel was public housing,” says Gigi. “Today it’s 3%. The OECD average is 16%. In Israel, thousands of people are on the waiting list. Our struggle is to ensure that no one in this country goes without a roof over their head.”

“People like Hagit bring that day one step closer.”

Photo via Facebook