Clash Between Sharon, Treasury Could Aggravate Housing Crisis

An angry clash between the Finance Ministry and Housing Minister Ariel Sharon may further aggravate an immigrant-housing shortage that had seemed near solution.

Sharon’s Housing Ministry has accused the Treasury of holding up new construction by refusing to lay out the huge amounts of cash necessary to finance Sharon’s aggressive housing program.

Although the Treasury announced this week it would advance some $200 million, the Housing Ministry warned that if the dispute between the two government departments is not resolved by the time Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir returns from his U.S. visit next week, construction would be halted on 75,350 apartments.

In order to spur housing construction, the government promised private contractors that it would purchase new apartments. Now, the Housing Ministry is accusing the Treasury of refusing to provide it with the funds necessary to buy the privately built housing units.

Sharon’s position, articulated Sunday, is that those apartments are being built pursuant to a government-approved plan and the funds for their purchase should be made available. But the Treasury says it has not received legal approval and would not lay out funds for housing projects without proper authorization.

Sharon accused the Treasury of interfering in every construction project and acting “according to the wishes of the American administration.”

He did not elaborate on that remark but complained that “one cannot work anymore.”

Meanwhile, even assuming that enough housing will be available for new immigrants, the absorption of those immigrants is being threatened by Israel’s soaring unemployment.

Israel’s unemployment rate rose by an average of 15 percent in October compared to previous months, according to figures released Thursday by the Labor Exchange. The increase was described as unprecedented for a single month.

The Labor Exchange reported 145,000 people sought jobs last month.

The country can hardly absorb new olim if no work is available for those already here.

Deputy Minister of Labor Menachem Porush warned at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting that the number of jobless will reach 240,000 next year unless the government takes drastic measures to create employment.

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