Strategic Plans are not Decorations: The Truth behind The State Comptroller’s Report | Dr. Shai Stern

The State Comptroller’s report published last week found that the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Israel Land Authority failed to meet the goals set by the government to deal with the housing crisis of the Haredi population. From the set of findings, two particularly important ones can be pointed out: the state has failed to meet the goals of marketing and planning housing units for the Haredi population, and just as importantly, there has been a continuous decline in the planning and marketing of housing units over the years. The significance of this data is that not only will it not be possible to close the existing gaps in the housing needs of the Haredi population, but that these gaps will increase in the coming years, due to the lack of adequate planning.

These findings of the comptroller’s report are severe, mainly due to the significant housing crisis that exists in Haredi society. However, they become even more severe in light of the fact that the state has a detailed strategic plan for dealing with the housing crisis in Haredi society.

This plan, prepared by the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs in 2016 for the Ministry of Construction and Housing, stated that in order to close the existing gaps, and to deal with the needs of the future, Haredi society needs approximately 10,000 housing units every year until 2035. After a thorough examination of the potential supply, the strategic plan stated that these goals can only be met by combining between offering new housing units in Haredi cities, the expansion of Haredi neighborhoods in mixed cities, and the utilization of the existing potential in old Haredi areas – mainly through rapid implementation of urban renewal plans.

Already in 2016, the Israeli government accepted the outline proposed in the strategic plan and set goals for the planning and marketing of housing units for the years 2016-2018. The government also ordered in its decision to act in accordance with the combination of solutions proposed in the strategic plan, and to act simultaneously in a variety of paths to meet these goals.

The State Comptroller’s report for 2023 indicates that the state has failed in each of the aforementioned goals: First, the state has failed to meet the planning and marketing goals it set itself. More importantly, however, the auditor’s report clarifies that the state refrained from implementing the recommendations of the strategic plan in regard to creating said combination of solutions to maximize the housing potential, and instead focused on the planning and marketing of housing units in Haredi concentrations and the northern periphery only.

To illustrate, as I am writing these words, not a single large-scale urban renewal project has been carried out in old Haredi neighborhoods (Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Ashdod). That means the possibility of exhausting the existing housing potential in these areas is still far from reached.

The findings of the comptroller’s report regarding the state’s failure to meet the goals it set for itself regarding dealing with the housing crisis in Haredi society, therefore, reveal a problematic reality that goes beyond the scope of this topic.

In this sense, the comptroller’s report indicates that even when the state works to identify failures and find solutions in a professional manner, such as when preparing a professional strategic plan, and even when these professional plans are accepted by the government as operative work plans, the implementing bodies from the state choose for themselves which parts to implement, without considering the importance of the plan as a whole.

This selective action by the executive bodies practically prevents the achievement of the goals of the strategic plan, and in any case, it is destined to star, a few years later, on the dark side of the State Comptroller’s reports.

The lesson, therefore, that the state should take from the comptroller’s report in this regard, is that professional strategic plans are not decoration nor embellishment. The worthy goals that these plans set can only be achieved if they are implemented as a whole.

On a more positive note, it is worth noting that in the last year there has been a significant change in the way the state perceives dealing with the housing challenge in Haredi society. The essence of this change lies in the insight that also emerged in the comptroller’s report, according to which achieving the housing goals in Haredi society is not possible only through the marketing of housing units in Haredi cities and the outskirts, and that the state must expand the combination of the offered housing options for this purpose.

The planning of the city of Kasif as a new Haredi city and the allocation of a new Haredi neighborhood in the city of Kiryat Gat are a significant step towards achieving the required housing goals. Equally important is the fact that in the last year the Urban Renewal Authority has taken significant action to expand urban renewal programs in old Haredi areas. This change indicates the implementation of the strategic plan for housing in Haredi society, in practice, and their success may lead the state, perhaps for the first time, to meet its goals for dealing with this ever-increasing predicament.

Dr. Shai Stern is the head of housing at the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, an associate professor at Bar Ilan University law school, and specializes in property law, zoning and planning law, and the legal construction of space.

The article was originally published in Hebrew in ICE.

To read the strategic housing plan for the Haredi society (2016-2035) click here