Israel is the Jewish homeland. It’s there to welcome us if we decide to make aliyah, and its mere existence as a refuge strengthens those of us in the diaspora.
We know Israel is a tiny nation, no bigger than New Jersey, but we count on it to make room for all. That’s why we’re alarmed by a new report from Israel’s state comptroller, Yosef Shapira, on the nation’s housing crisis.
The report draws a picture of bureaucratic inefficiencies and government mistakes that have stalled housing construction and inevitably driven up prices as demand has far outstripped supply.
From 2008 to 2013, the average cost to buy an apartment in Israel rose 55 percent, and the average monthly rent rose 30 percent. That period includes the global recession in 2008 and 2009 that sliced home values across the United States, meaning that Americans making aliyah weren’t driving up prices by spending a glut of cash from selling their U.S. houses.
As shown in our Feb. 6 story on Blueprint Negev, Jewish National Fund throughout that period was working hard to bring hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the southern desert. That effort and JNF’s parallel Go North project in the Galilee should have relieved the housing crunch and the price pressure.
But Shapira found that the government failed spectacularly.
It takes 12 years from the time a housing construction plan is submitted to the Israel Land Authority until the resulting home is ready for a family.
Israeli housing plans could have bat mitzvah celebrations as quickly as they produce desperately needed living space.
It takes 5½ years in much of the country and seven years in the densely populated center of the nation just to gain approval of construction plans. Those approvals take weeks or a few months in most developed nations.
The government has made a mess of its own planning, failing to coordinate between local and national agencies, failing to work across ministries, and often failing to do any multiyear forecasting. As a result, the number of housing units approved between 2008 and 2013 — just approved, not built — fell 50,000 short of the need.
The agencies, including the Interior Ministry and the Finance Ministry, do such a bad job of collecting and sharing housing information that Shapira found a dearth of quality government data to assess housing demand and prices.
The perfect expression of the problems is that on the eve of elections that might oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the comptroller couldn’t get past the end of 2013 for the report. So it’s anyone’s guess, and every politician’s basis for claims and accusations, whether the current government is making progress.
It is not our place to advise Israelis how to vote. But we hope that the next time an Israeli prime minister urges mass emigration from Europe, he or she does so with the knowledge that Israel has places for its current citizens and the newcomers to live. That’s not the case today.