‘We will double, triple, quadruple, quintuple’: Housing minister pushes for settlement expansion

Yitzhak Goldknopf vowed to enable all citizens, noting especially demobilized soldiers, Torah scholars and young couples, to buy first-time homes.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

New Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party vowed Sunday to help expand the settlement program in Judea and Samaria as one of the solutions for all sectors suffering from the country-wide housing crisis.

In the official hand-over ceremony from the outgoing minister, Ze’ev Elkin, to the head of UTJ’s Chasidic faction, Goldknopf assured his audience that he has come to serve all citizens equally, and “to promote the settlement of the land.”

“We will help our brothers who live in Judea and Samaria, who are actually keeping the [commandment of] settling the land,” he said, noting that “part of the solution to the housing crisis is found in these areas.”

Last month, at a real estate conference in Eilat attended by some 4,000 people in the field, Sovereignty Movement heads Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover presented a map of 101 square kilometers in Judea and Samaria, at the seam line of the center of the country where most people want to live, that are immediately available for construction. Building 25,000 units there per year, their research showed, “would reduce housing costs in the center by 35-45%,” Nadar said at the conference.

Goldknopf mentioned the specific responsibility he feels regarding three groups.

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“We have a special duty to discharged soldiers,” he noted. “It is unacceptable that those who dedicate their best years to the safety of the citizens of Israel, will stand like poor people at the door when they want to establish a home, and need donations to cover the rent.”

Torah scholars who study full time, “who make do with little and [just] ask for a roof over their heads,” were also a priority for the ultra-Orthodox politician, as was “all young couples from all sectors – regardless of religion, race or outlook…. We will God willing work to help everyone,” he said.

The neophyte politician, 72, was chosen by the Grand Rabbi of Gur Chasidim before this year’s elections to head the Agudat Yisrael wing of UTJ after being involved most of his career in child development and education in the haredi sector.

He aroused a furor last month when he was quoted as saying that “there is no housing crisis in Israel” at a conference, when prices for apartments shot up a record 19% over last year, in addition to having risen steadily for the last several years.

His full statement at the Muni Expo in Tel Aviv on urban innovation was, “I did not know the Ministry of Housing beforehand, so I don’t know that there’s a crisis in this area. I see that building is taking place in the country. We will double, triple, quadruple, quintuple… we’ll get to everything.”

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The incoming minister took the opportunity Sunday to remind people that already at the conference he had mentioned “young people who live in parking lots and storerooms” in many haredi neighborhoods, “and spoke of couples living in underground apartments,” proving that he knew that there was a problem.

“When I said I was coming into the [minister’s] job without pre-formed opinions, I said ‘I’m not familiar with the housing crisis.’ Of course that didn’t mean that ‘there is no crisis,’ but rather that I’m new to the job and so I don’t understand the factors causing the crisis well enough. I am full of hope that with God’s help, hard work and cooperative efforts, by the end of the government’s term we’ll all be able to say that ‘We don’t see a housing crisis,’” Goldknopf said.