Construction of the new haredi city of Shafir, also known as Kiryat Gat East, is likely to be given the green light, if as expected Moshe Litzman is appointed Minister of Construction and Housing in the new coalition government.
Only last May, as Minister of Health, Litzman wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "Haredi society has a huge shortage of housing for young couples getting married each year and most of them have nothing in their pockets. They live in storage rooms and stores without any air and light that are no bigger than 20 square meters. The hardship is very harsh."
In the same letter, he called for the construction of Shafir, a new ultra-orthodox city, but expressed concern that the planned city's fate would be similar to Harish. Planned as a haredi city, all the haredi groups that bid for tenders were disqualified for price collusion and ultimately secular and national religious groups won the tenders.
However, the initiative to build Shafir raises important questions. Why are separate cities required for the ultra-orthodox and how would Shafir impact on Kiryat Gat, a long established and relatively poor city, and would it be right to take land agricultural land away from the Shafir Regional Council in the Lacish Region and attach it to Kiryat Gat.
A master plan exists to build 9,500 homes in Shafir, which has the potential for 30,000-40,000 housing units. This would mean that it could end up dwarfing Kiryat Gat, which currently has a population of 60,000. Litzman's spokesperson confirmed to "Globes" that he still supports the construction of Shafir while Kiryat Gat Mayor Aviram Dahari, who is known to oppose the plan, declined to comment on the matter.
The National Economic Council estimated several years ago that 305,000 housing units needs to be built for the ultra-orthodox sector between 2016 and 2035. A Ministry of Housing position paper in December 2019 proposed that the government develop about 125,000 homes - only 45% of this number.
In addition to Shafir, a new city is also proposed called Kasif in the Negev near Arad. 16,000 homes were approved for Kasif in 2014 but there is major opposition to the plan from Arad.
Geographically, the haredi community prefers Shafir, which is closer to the center of the country than Kasif. "Just as the children of Bnei Brak families moved to Ashdod, so the children of Ashdod families would move to Shafir," said Dr. Haim Zicherman Head of the School of Real Estate at Ono Academic College.
But despite Kiryat Gat's convenient location and transport links by train and road along Highways 6 and 40, there would not be enough employment opportunities for the numbers of apartments being planned. And despite the support of the Minister of Construction and Housing in waiting Yaakov Litzman, Shafir would have to overcome fierce opposition from Kiryat Gat and the surrounding regional authorities.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 10, 2020
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