Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Finance Minister Yair Lapid decided to reactivate the law permitting the sale of Amidar public housing to those currently living in it: the residents will be able to buy million-shekel homes for just a hundred thousand. The law, it should be remembered, was passed against the advice of the Budget Department, the guardian of the national treasury.
Why should residents’ rights accrue to someone living in public housing who doesn’t own his apartment, who at most has paid reduced rent for a number of years? Such a person lives in the apartment courtesy of taxpayers, many of whom themselves rent apartments and pay a pretty penny for the privilege.
Former Housing Minister Natan Sharansky, who learned a thing or two about the advantages and disadvantages of public housing while in Russia, explained to me some time ago why the old law has to be kept inactive: If the apartments are in fact sold to their residents, then there will be no new apartments to replace them, because the money from the sale of the old units won’t be enough to build replacement units. And if the money is used to subsidize apartment rentals on the free market, it will quickly evaporate.
The law itself was born in sin—specifically, that of former MK and minister Ron Cohen of Meretz. At the time, kibbutzim were claiming rights to state lands that had been leased to them on generous terms in order to promote agricultural production. The Supreme Court then ruled on such real estate deals as emerged from this state of affairs, including one by Kibbutz Gan Shemuel, where Cohen had previously made his home. Then the Mizrahi Rainbow organization petitioned the court, claiming that if the kibbutzim were recognized as having rights over these lands, then residents of public housing should be similarly recognized. Cohen’s response was to give both groups precisely what they wanted.
And so it was, just as under communist regimes, that the goodies were distributed to the squeaky wheels and to those with connections: the Mizrahi Rainbow and the kibbutzim. On the way to realizing his leftist brand of social justice, Ron Cohen left the proletariat and the masses high and dry.
Some background is required to understand the enormity of this injustice: At the time, Amidar had 108,000 housing units. Young couples who were just starting out would rent apartments from the company at subsidized prices. Once they were able to stand on their own two feet, they returned the apartments, which then went to other young couples.
The problem was that some families refused to vacate the apartments. Some even managed to leave the apartments to their children: second-generation officially needy people, complete with cars in the backyard.
Both sorts were sold the apartments at ten percent of their worth. For instance, an acquaintance of mine in a development area bought an apartment for 13,000 NIS after the appraiser had come and reduced its book value to 130,000 NIS. Today it’s worth 650,000.
The application of Ron Cohen’s populism was suspended in 2009, at the initiative of the Budget Department. Today there are 61,000 apartments left. They are occupied. Instead of reviewing the current residents’ eligibility, the ministers want to sell them the units. Instead of refreshing the list of eligible beneficiaries and giving new young couples some time in public housing until they’re ready to move forward, they want to give away the apartments to people who have been reaping the benefits for years.
Before another hundred thousand rental units are built, someone had better make sure that they won’t end up the same way as these, sold at a miserable pittance to those living in them.
Ministers Ariel and Lapid, social justice means fair allocation of resources.
Theater of the Left
Most Israeli cultural institutions broadcast on the same channel. Take for instance a recent distorted play about the Jews of Hevron, and another about Yehuda Etzion, the pioneer and ideologue from Ofra who had things he’d never said stuffed into his mouth, courtesy of “creative license.” And it’s not just settlers. The soldiers of the IDF frequently fall victim to these productions, portrayed as so many soldiers of fortune.