At a news conference Tuesday morning at 11 AM Israel time, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with finance Minister Yuval Steinitz at his side, acknowledged the seriousness of the housing crisis and announced practical plans for alleviating it.
Netanyahu announced a plan that would primarily benefit young couples, students and discharged soldiers. This immediately provoked opposition from leaders of the protest movement who claimed that the program was being selective in terms of its beneficiaries. The leaders have an obvious political agenda, so this was expected, but the housing shortage for purchase and rental, as well as spiraling prices for both, are real problems that did not start with Netanyahu, but have gotten worse during his term of office.
According to the Prime Minister, the major problem is the cumbersome bureaucracy, starting with the Israel Lands Authority that monopolizes Israeli real estate resources and ending with the tortuous path towards getting housing permits. Israel ranks among the lowest rated countries in terms of the facility of the process, he said.
Netanyahu started his term of office with a plan for changing the situation which became bogged down in bureaucratic and Knesset altercations, but the National Housing Commission Law, in preparation from before the protest, will circumvent most of the bureaucracy once it is passed.
The Prime Minister promised to streamline the process and called for a crash program for 50,000 new apartments within a year and a half under an emergency decree for that period.
The government would also encourage use of the current housing stock in the periphery by lowering the cost of public transportation to the center of the country where most of the jobs and universities are. 10,000 apartments would be allocated for rental housing at reasonable prices in order to drive down the price of apartment rentals.
Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz (Likud), who found himself under attack, promised to zero in on the empty apartments many of which are used for offices or bought by overseas absentee owners. His ministry plans to cut down the exemption on real estate tax for empty apartments to 6 months in order to encourage their owners to rent them.
The Government Press Office issued the following outline of the plan: