Israeli-Arab real estate sector resists high-density homes

Poor turnout at conference on Israeli-Arab real estate demonstrates just how difficult it will be to change existing mentalities.

July 7, 2011 05:31
3 minute read.
Apartment in Tel Aviv

Apartment in Tel Aviv 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The poor turnout at a conference on Israeli-Arab real estate on Wednesday in Herzliya demonstrates just how difficult it will be to change existing mentalities that are holding the sector back, organizers say.

Only about half of the 150 expected participants showed up, and Helmi Kittani, director of the Center for Jewish Arab Economic Development, said that showed there “is a need for a lot of patience before interest grows and people show understanding [in the Arab sector] of how essential this is.”

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He said organizers had hoped for the attendance of “more contractors, two or three municipal officials [from Arab councils]” and “another 30 or 40 businesspeople.”

This was the eighth annual conference hosted by the center, but the first to concentrate on real estate. A common theme raised by speakers, both Arab and Jewish, was the lack of willingness among Arabs to adapt to living in high-density dwellings, or what is defined by the Construction and Housing Ministry as at least four housing units situated on one dunam of land.

Data presented by Ayman Saif, director- general of the Prime Minister’s Office’s Economic Development Authority for the Arab, Druse and Circassian sectors, showed that demand for new housing among those minorities easily outstrips supply: 12,000 new housing units are needed each year, but only 7,000 are available. Even today, 75 percent of Arabs live in houses, as opposed to apartments, he said.

Saif is Prime Minister Binyamin’s Netanyahu’s right-hand man on the Arab sector and is tasked with easing barriers to attaining land for housing.

He outlined plans for the construction of 7,500 new high-density housing units spread across various locations.

One example he gave was the creation of a new neighborhood in Sakhnin, where 1,600 housing units are being built on state-owned and private land.

Association of Contractors and Builders head Nissim Bublil said the Arab sector faced similar housing problems to its Jewish counterparts, including a lack of land to compensate for population growth and soaring costs.

The bureaucratic process “takes even longer for the Arab sector,” he said.

State-owned land has expanded to 94 percent of Israeli territory, Bublil said, while only 6% of land is in the hands of private owners. Despite that, he said, 60% of all housing construction takes place on private land, while only 40% is done on the state’s 94%.

Bublil said decades of reforms had done nothing to change housing problems, and now “the time has come to work and to downsize the bureaucracy.”

In the Arab sector, “there is a need to accept the challenge and not wait for government programs,” he said.

“I have heard for years in the Arab sector, ‘We will not live in high-density buildings,’” Bublil said. “I am not a great expert on the Arab sector, but I will tell you something: A large portion of Arabs [already] live in highdensity buildings, in Karmiel, in Nazareth, Lod, Jaffa. Why can they live in these high-density dwellings, but in other cities Arabs can’t? “They need to get over this, to construct buildings of a high standard, to give social services at a very high level, to construct infrastructure of a high standard. And I promise you that everybody will live in high-density buildings and will be happy about it.”

Saleem Lahham, chairman of the Association of Contractors and Builders’s northern branch, echoed Bublil’s comments about high-density dwellings, but said Arabs needed to take responsibility for their own housing problems, as only they had a good enough understanding of their community’s needs to find viable solutions.

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