Data Dearth Hangs Up Housing Reform

Construction of new residential buildings in central Tel Aviv, earlier this year. (Miriam Alster/Flash90))
Construction of new residential buildings in central Tel Aviv, earlier this year. (Miriam Alster/Flash90))

Five years after a protest movement over the high cost of living, housing in particular, rocked the country, a lack of reliable information about the Israeli real estate market still hampers efforts to end the shortage of affordable housing, according to Globes on Monday.

Contradictory and inadequate data about apartment sales and the overall scale of the shortage casts a fog over a matter of national importance which has preoccupied politicians and the public for years, the report says.

For example, just recently the Central Bureau of Statistics published data showing a rise in apartment sales in the past two months, while the Ministry of Finance Chief Economist released figures indicative of a significant decrease in apartment sales. Perhaps the differences are the result of divergent counting methods. But who can say?

Another instance of incompatible data: for years now, the standard figure in use for the housing shortage has been 100,000 apartments. This supply shortage has been cited over and over again as one of the main causes of high apartment prices.

Yet, last week, “out of the blue,” a senior economist in the Bank of Israel asserted that the actual shortage amounts to no more than 50,000 apartments. Furthermore, if the current rate of buildings starts is kept up, the gap between supply and demand will be closed within a few years, he predicted.

The BOI man’s estimate does not, however, take into consideration conditions in the Arab housing sector, only the Jewish sector. That’s for the simple reason that no reliable information is available on the Arab sector.

Any market in which basic facts are not available is vulnerable to misinformation, disinformation and manipulation by unscrupulous parties. Moreover, the paucity of data makes it difficult if not impossible for intelligent planning and policymaking.

All of this was recognized at the first housing cabinet session, in 2013, and a special team was set up to make some order out of the chaos. But, according to Globes, it hasn’t happened yet.