On the heels of a disquieting report released Sunday, reflecting the prohibitive nature of affordable housing for growing families in the capital, a city councilman at the forefront of the crisis discussed his personal travails at securing an appropriate home for his young family.
According to the report, published by the Bank of Israel, home-purchase affordability in the capital has declined between 2004 and 2012, rendering young prospective homeowners unable to provide adequate housing for their families.
Hanan Ruvin, a 32-year-old father of five and city councilman (Jerusalem Awakening), who holds the capital’s Young Adult Families and Students Portfolio, is one of tens of thousands of such people.
Although he and his family have been living in his grandmother’s Rehavia two-bedroom, 60 sq.m. apartment for the last two years, allowing him to save money for a home of his own, Ruvin said Monday that housing costs in the city make such a goal virtually impossible to attain.
“My situation is a bit better than most people’s because I have this apartment from my family, so we can save money,” he said. “But in this market we cannot save enough to afford the millions of shekels it will cost to buy even a 90 -100 sq.m. apartment, which still wouldn’t be ideal.”
Indeed, according to the report, the average cost for a 3 to 4-bedroom home in the capital’s most desirable and family- friendly neighborhoods starts at NIS 3.5 million for Talbiyeh, NIS 3.3m. for Rehavia, NIS 3m. for the German Colony, NIS 2.5m. for Katamon, and NIS 2m. for Katamonim.
“It’s not possible to afford such a place, and it’s important to note that I come from an upper-middle class family,” he said. “Affordable housing is a big issue all over Israel; even if you’re getting paid more in Tel Aviv, it still takes eight years of a person’s salary to be able to afford something.”
With resigned incredulity, Ruvin added: “In Jerusalem it takes 13 years of salary to find a place! So it’s impossible. It’s just too hard.”
Noting that he does not want to “become a slave all my life to pay a mortgage,” the councilman said he and his wife decided a few weeks ago that they have no choice but to rent. Still, Ruvin said, even rentals in the areas he wants to raise his children are prohibitive.
“For a 4 to 5-bedroom flat in a desirable neighborhood near the city’s center, it costs between NIS 6,000 and NIS 8,000 a month,” he said. “In Rehavia, where we live now, it costs NIS 9,000 to NIS 10,000, and this doesn’t take into consideration if the apartment is renovated, or has a garden for the children.”
Moreover, Ruvin said that while the best schools for his children were built in areas like the German Colony and Katamon when numerous young families lived there, the high costs have driven the majority of such families outside of the city.
“These are places where we can walk our kids to school, which is important because there are no school buses in Jerusalem,” he said. “But no young families can afford to live there anymore.”
Compounding the crisis, Ruvin said, is that “Jerusalem is the only city in the world in which the rent prices are the highest, and the city is considered one of the poorest in the nation,” resulting in a lower per capita pay scale.
Conceding the futility of finding a fitting home for his family downtown, Ruvin said he, and others like him, must now look to more outlying neighborhoods like Talpiot and East Talpiot.
“There is no other viable choice,” he said.
Asked how he would resolve the problem as a councilman, Ruvin said his plan is two-fold.
“First, we should build higher and in neighborhoods that are not close to the center in order to provide affordable apartments,” he said. “But, while we do this, it is also important to make sure that neighborhoods like Talpiot and East Talpiot become attractive enough for people to want to move there.”
To that end, Ruvin said the municipality must invest in such neighborhoods to make them more family friendly by building parks for children, better schools, a warm community and even “meaning.”
“My generation is called ‘Generation Y’ because we’re asking ‘why’ about everything we do,” he said. “We’re not just looking to move to a place for a house – we’re looking for a community. For purpose and meaning.”
Therefore, these communities must be defined by a sense of camaraderie and trust, where families can rely on each other to raise their children in a caring and attractive environment, he said.
“When my wife gave birth, we had neighbors come over to bring us meals – that is a community,” he said. “In Judaism we say that every single person is responsible for each other, and we must develop communities like that for our growing families.”
Additionally, Ruvin said each community should have a “theme” that makes it friendly and unique.
“It can be defined by art, sports or cultural institutions,” he said. “A theme that makes it special and makes people want to live there.”
“This is the only solution to this crisis,” he said.