For the past two years, the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) has been subsidizing students who rent in the city center to the tune of NIS 5,000 per student per year. The goal of the subsidy is to rejuvenate an area that until recently was practically a ghost town as a result of the threat of terrorism. "We want to encourage residence in the city center," says JDA's deputy CEO Asaf Vitman. "We want people who live in the city to have a vibrant city center... It's a small place but its effect on the whole city is very strong." Vitman cites European capital cities as role models of the revitalization program, with pedestrian-friendly streets and lots of cafés. Rehov Shimon Ben-Shetah is one such example: What was once a drab area of the city center has been transformed into a pedestrian-only, charming side street lined with some of Jerusalem's top restaurants. The impact of the student subsidy on rental costs in the city center is less encouraging. Landlords are driving up prices, knowing that students are willing to pack as many as six people into a small apartment if it means that they'll each receive the subsidy. Therefore, unless student renters are single and willing to live in inordinately cramped conditions, the subsidy may hurt more than it helps. "The subsidies aren't working," says realtor Moshe Kornfeld. If students in the city center live in basements or similarly low-grade conditions and spend all their money on rent, he adds, "it doesn't improve the [city's] culture." Landlords also justify raising rents because of the student discount on arnona (municipal taxes), even as the discount is almost impossible to obtain, says Kornfeld. Students must earn less than NIS 1500 a month in order to qualify, which means that those who work to support themselves don't make the cut. On the other hand, if the student doesn't work, a discount on arnona won't cover their living expenses. This phenomenon has also affected small business owners in the city center. For the most part, downtown eateries and cafes haven't felt the impact of the increasing number of students in the area. Yisrael Daniel of Dani Books on Jaffa Road says he has noticed the influx. "There are definitely more students," he says. "They're not the biggest buyers, but they come." Awni Shalde of Hashiva hardware store on Rehov Yoel Solomon concurs. "There are five or six students in each apartment, and a lot of them come in for extension cords and things like that," he says. "Each wants his own room set up differently." "If [the JDA] really wants young people staying [downtown]," says Kornfeld, "they'll have to think more about how to subsidize or help people." - I.T.

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