Over the last year, the Forum for Public Housing, a coalition of organizations of which Rabbis for Human Rights is actively involved, made a number of important successes.
By Rabbi Kobi Weiss
Last month, the treasury and housing ministers held a press conference where they presented new solutions for public housing. This includes the immediate purchase of 1,000 units for public housing, and the allocation of 3-5% of the total new housing units within the framework of a subsidized housing project— usually designated for the middle class— to also be reserved for those living poverty – i.e: for public housing.
Additionally, the plan to exchange rental assistance for mortgage payments, which would allow residents to become homeowners themselves, was brought up.
As is true of many of the declarations made by the government, especially in regards to public housing, we need to wait and see how much of the talk will lead to actions. And as always, it is too little too late, especially for those on the public housing waitlist who need to wait years in order to get into the housing.
Nevertheless, we can’t ignore the seemingly new approach and attitude. For more than a year now, we’ve been seeing a shift in the language and the attitude towards public housing and those who qualify for it from the government. There is new respect for the residents along with a recognition and legitimisation of their rights. This recent press conference marked many meaningful steps in the right direction including the admission of the 20 year long failure in addressing this issue, and an acknowledgement that our approach to handling the issues of public housing has been adopted.
The government seems to understand that without its assistance, an entire population is left with no solution to their housing needs and rights. It is therefore incumbent upon the state to take responsibility for them. New approaches by the government as signalled by recent statements moving from the notion of more budget to the notion of allocating a percentage of new apartments be set aside for public housing — thus moving away from the building of highly stigmatised, “public housing blocks” — appears promising.
We are also seeing a backing away from support for rental assistance, as this type of aid often demands sudden moves from one home to another due to changes in rental costs, and is therefore not conducive to family stability and healthy childhood development. Both of these shifts are positive developments, and successes such as these strengthens our faith that in the end, truth and justice will prevail.
Rabbi Kobi Weiss is RHR’s director of housing in the social justice project and the head of the human rights beit midrash at Jezreel Valley College.