Netanyahu Announces Steps to Ease Housing Crisis

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his government's plans to address the nation's critical housing shortage in a press conference Monday morning.

The prime minister was responding to nearly two weeks of nationwide tent city protests over the lack of affordable housing.

Flanked by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel and PMO Director-General Eyal Gabai, Netanyahu began by saying the housing crisis is real and government bureaucracy is the primary culprit.

"I recognized this problem before I took office," Netanyahu said. "And we have to deal with it."

"Housing prices in Israel are too expensive, and they're too expensive because there aren't enough apartments," he added.

The plan would "ease conditions for the apartment-buying public," which he said would be a "significant response" to the "jump in housing prices," especially for students, young couples and discharged soldiers.

Netanyahu said the government would take "two massive steps" next week.

"The first thing we'll do is remove restrictions on residential planning," and secondly, "remove the restrictions for the sale of land for residential [buildings]," he explained.

"The main way to lower the prices of apartments in the long term is to build a lot more apartments," he said, adding that within a year and a half, he expected 50,000 new units to be on the market.

Additionally, Netanyahu said the government would provide up to a 50 percent discount on land designated for rental apartments, with the savings passed on to the tenants. 

The multi-faceted plan includes 10,000 dormitory units and the elimination of a tax exemption on empty apartments, which hopefully would persuade their owners to put them on the market -- either for sale or for rent.

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