Affordable urban housing
I haven’t heard a single voice raised on behalf of the undisputably essential need to offer affordable housing to young couples who can provide the much needed workforce for our cities.
Building project in J'lem Photo: Seth J. Frantzman
Newspapers, websites, blogs and social media are suffering from an acute
overdose of political recycling. We do not encounter any real innovation of
thought or policy, but it is the politicians themselves that have been engaging
in a kind of musical chairs, brought to a stop only when the time was up. At
that point, those politicians who hadn’t found a seat while the music was
playing found themselves left out of the game.
Throughout the performance
we were all so swept up by the action that the major issues facing the State of
Israel in general, and its capital city Jerusalem in particular, were all
In the area of foreign policy the Left and Right continue to
battle, without anyone proposing realistic future boundaries either for the
State of Israel or for Jerusalem, as a statement of principle to be incorporated
into their party’s political platform.
Such a statement of principle
could guide the bewildered citizens, whose task, to identify leadership among
the 34 lists competing for the Knesset, is not an enviable one. Such a statement
would indicate a base point for future dialogue with the Palestinian Authority
on the one hand, while also clarifying some basic misunderstandings as to how we
define terms such as “settlement,” one of the most abused words in the global
discourse about the conflict in our area.
What about our internal
affairs? Is there even an echo of the brave voices from the summer of 2011,
which demanded not only social and environmental justice, but also a more
equitable distribution of the economic burdens of our country? Our productive
middle class, both the backbone of the Israeli economy and the source of our
military resilience when called up for reserve duty, is so severely challenged
that millions took part in the 2011 demonstrations all over the
This was indeed a strange spectacle, when the solid middle
section of the socio-economic spectrum came out into the streets, including
young couples and entire families.
Their goal is based on an urban
ideology, and ultimately the solutions to their problems lie in the potential
capacity of Israel’s cities to supply their needs. A major challenge, for
example, is the need for national legislation to establish the mechanism whereby
young couples can qualify for affordable housing in cities. This was one of the
major goals set by the current municipal leadership in Jerusalem.
the Jerusalem Municipality came up with a formula for affordable housing that
was approved after much debate and deliberation by our Urban Planning Committee
and then endorsed by the City Council. Yet the Trajtenberg Commission, set up by
the government after the massive 2011 summer demonstrations with the aim of
relieving the economic burden borne by our beleaguered middle class, refused to
adopt the most important of the recommendations we put forward, which stipulated
that couples would be entitled to affordable housing only if both members of the
couple were in the work force, with a minimum capacity of 150 percent employment
It is important to give some thought to the implications of
the watering down by the government of the Trajtenberg recommendations. This
process once again left young, productive and hardworking couples out in the
cold, enabling only families on welfare to qualify for affordable
Throughout the rhetoric of the past few weeks of musical chairs,
I haven’t heard a single voice raised on behalf of the undisputably essential
need to offer affordable housing to those very same young couples who can
provide the much needed workforce for our cities, but who are unable to sign on
for an urban future simply because they don’t qualify.
We don’t have to
continue acting out this comedy of errors, in which the Construction and Housing
Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Knesset Finance Committee are portfolios
of those sectors in our society that sincerely believe that affordable housing
should be made available only to the deserving poor.
circumstances the much needed legislation will never be advanced. Moreover, in
order to remedy the rift between national and local government policies, new and
innovative tools are needed. It will undoubtedly require a strategic change in
government policy, to enable local authorities in Israel to look to national
leadership to help achieve Israel’s urban goals.
Since 93% of Israel’s
population live in cities, and Israel rates as the most highly urbanized city in
the Western world, central government will have to take a bold step and start to
view local government as the chief agent for implementation of national
The writer is deputy mayor of Jerusalem, with planning and
environment portfolios. She was formerly director of the Urban Chapters
of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and was the founder of
the Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition, which brought together dozens of
environmental and social action groups from all sectors.