J’lem city hall: Help fill empty foreign-owned apartments

Municipality puts out a call for bids from real estate companies that specialize in helping foreigners rent their Jerusalem apartments.

December 22, 2010 04:16
3 minute read.
Construction workers put up a building in J'lem.

Jerusalem building_311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

A Jerusalem municipality initiative to entice foreigners who own property in Jerusalem to rent their apartments to young families and students took a small step toward realization on Monday, when City Hall appealed to private companies to help the city fill apartments.

According to the municipality, there are 9,000 “ghost apartments” in Jerusalem, which are owned by foreigners and are occupied only for a few weeks every year. Along with the Jerusalem Development Authority, a joint municipal and government corporation, the municipality put out a call for bids on Monday from real estate companies that specialize in helping foreigners rent their Jerusalem apartments and want to partner with the Kikar Safra initiative.

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Exactly a year ago, Mayor Nir Barkat sent a personal letter to 900 property-owning foreigners, encouraging them to rent their apartments at low cost to young people. An empty apartment, Barkat reminded the owners in his letter, “has a negative effect on Jerusalem. An empty apartment means fewer customers at the local grocery store, fewer children at school, fewer patrons of the neighborhood cafe and, most importantly, fewer young families living in the city.”

The move was dismissed as symbolic and baseless by community organizations.

“[Barkat’s letter] is just hilarious to us,” Abner Inbar, 30, a volunteer with a neighborhood association in Rehavia, told The Jerusalem Post last year. “They don’t give [the owners] any incentive. Also, we’re talking about huge apartments, expensive apartments, probably filled with artwork and things that cost a lot of money. I don’t know why anyone would agree to this.”

But Monday’s move to appeal to companies that are already involved in the renting market is drawing cautious praise from organizations that try to keep young people in the city.

“Ten percent of all apartments in Jerusalem and 35% of all the apartments in the inner city are empty,” said Merav Cohen, spokeswoman for Awakening Jerusalem, an organization that advocates for students and young families.

“But until today, we’ve heard a lot about this problem and we haven’t seen that anything is happening. And this isn’t a coincidence. It’s really hard to get to a situation where a property owner, who isn’t so sensitive about money, would be ready to open his house to a stranger,” she continued.

“If the municipality succeeds with this, it would be amazing, but until today I’ve heard about it for two years, but I’ve never seen anywhere it’s succeeded,” she said.

The municipality hopes that between 300 and 500 apartments that are normally empty could be rented to young people as a result of this initiative, according to Moty Hazan, the CEO of the Jerusalem Development Authority. But he added that even a small response would be a positive thing for the city.

“Every apartment that is added into the Jerusalem housing market is a success,” Hazan told the Post.

“Last year we went straight to the owners and said, ‘Rent your apartments because it’s important, we want to interest you in this.’ Now we’re going to help them and give them a vehicle to do this,” said Hazan.

The municipality will be accepting bids from real estate companies until the end of July. The city hopes to start a huge marketing blitz encouraging foreigners to rent their apartments in September, when many of the foreign residents are in the city for the holidays.

Like other vacation destinations, Jerusalem is in the uncomfortable position of having an extreme shortage of affordable apartments, as well as an overwhelming surplus of luxury apartments that sit empty for the majority of the year. The initiative is one attempt to address this inequality.

“This has an economic effect on the city, and all in all what we’re trying to do is to take this disadvantage and merge it into an advantage,” said Hazan.

Leora Goldberg contributed to this article.

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