Sharon Lashes out at Contractors, Who Say They Can Meet Housing Need

Ariel Sharon, accusing local building contractors of “refusing to take even minimal risks,” despite incentives offered by the government, has urged that Israel start importing prefabricated homes to meet the immediate housing needs of immigrants.

Israel’s building industry has denounced the idea. The Construction Workers Union claimed Wednesday at a news conference in Tel Aviv that, with adjustments, local industry could produce sufficient housing to make imports unnecessary.

Sharon, the minister of construction and housing who has special authority for the settlement of immigrants, made his plea Tuesday at the weekly meeting of the ministerial committee on immigration, which he chairs.

He asked United Jewish Appeal leaders overseas to help implement his import plans.

Citing a Housing Ministry forecast that available apartments will run out by the end of the year, Sharon said he wants to import about 7,000 housing units monthly, starting next month.

At present, local industry cannot supply more than 1,200 prefab houses a year, he said.

But according to the union, the local industry could turn out 30,000 prefab houses a year, if plants closed in recent years were reopened.

The construction workers argued that even if locally built houses were more expensive, they would reduce Israel’s high unemployment rate.

A RETURN TO THE ‘MA’ABAROT’?

Sharon contended that even with special incentives, the manufacturing capacity of local contractors would reach 5,000 units, far short of the immediate needs. He castigated the local industry for a lack of enthusiasm to cope with the housing emergency.

Sharon’s immediate plans call for the import this year of 45,000 single-story houses, to be erected in 30 locations all over the country for use by immigrants and young Israeli couples in need of housing.

Histadrut, the trade union federation, warned that its dockworkers would refuse to unload ships bringing in imported houses.

The Construction Industry Council objected to imported houses on aesthetic grounds.

According to the council, they would revive the ugly sights of the “ma’abarot,” the temporary communities of tent cities and corrugated iron huts that marred the Israeli landscape during the immigration wave of the early 1950s.

But Sharon argued that the imported dwellings would be of good quality and long durability. In addition, he plans to renovate 4,000 housing units owned by the Amidar housing company.

Sharon got an important boost in dealing with the housing crisis when the Knesset voted 49-36 Monday to transfer the Israel Lands Administration from the Agriculture Ministry to the Housing Ministry. The decision was opposed by the Labor opposition, on grounds that it gave Sharon too much power.

The government acted, meanwhile, to add affordable rental units to the housing market. It announced that, effective July 1, landlords will not have to pay income tax on apartments renting for $1,300 a month or less.

Israel’s housing shortage is so acute that young couples have been forced to set up tents in various localities while waiting for affordable housing to become available.

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