A laborer works on an apartment building under construction in the Har Homa quarter in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As our once beautiful countryside becomes an expensive concrete jungle, leaving young families and new immigrants without affordable housing, there is a wealth of abandoned, rundown and dilapidated properties within our cities.
Projects such as Tama 38 have helped to renovate and strengthen old buildings within the cities, but contractors will only consider a property if it is in a popular neighborhood and if they are assured of making a good profit out of the extra apartments that are added.
In the early years of our aliya, with a family of four children, the quality of the neighborhood schools was our first priority when searching for a property. However, when we decided to downsize four years ago, we scoured every district in Haifa.
The nest had emptied and our immediate needs were for easy access and good transportation. We prefer old properties that have some character so we had to think outside the box. Ironically some of the most run-down properties in Haifa are on or near the sea-front, very different from other towns where the seafront is prime property. Attracted by the idea of walking out of an apartment onto a beach every day instead of driving down from the Carmel, we explored these areas only to find that their entire infrastructure was unfit for living. We did plan to renovate but crumbling outside walls, rusty drainpipes and yards filled with scrap iron and last year’s garbage made us realize that much more was needed than renovating an individual apartment or house.
Eventually we found a solid but much neglected apartment in an old established part of the town, but surrounded by trees and with a view that wows every visitor. We only had to worry about gutting and renovating the interior to live in a pleasant environment inside and out.
In the street below us there is an abandoned two-family structure. There are walls and a roof but the builders obviously ran out of money before tiling the roof, putting in windows and doors and presumably it is missing plumbing and tiling too.
All over the city there are such abandoned projects or neglected properties that are too much of a challenge for a lone purchaser.
The Housing and Construction Ministry and the municipalities need to get together, find the owners of such properties and put together an attractive package so that whether it is just one building or a run-down neighborhood, affordable, attractive and safe housing will be available.
The advantages of urban renewal are that residents live within easy distance of their work, have easier transportation, there are more leisure activities for adults and children as they have the entire city on their doorstep. It has been shown in many countries that the restoration of inner-city neighborhoods results in improved schooling and health services which in turn attract more young families and immigrants.
Another source of affordable housing is the rehabilitation of abandoned moshavim and kibbutzim.
While most working kibbutzim have been privatized in the past few years, the infrastructure has been changed to provide larger homes for families and utilizing the once-communal buildings for leisure and education. In most cases, the existing members of those communities have control over the future of their villages and the extra housing that is permitted with the change of status should be welcomed for it is still within the boundaries of the community. Unfortunately some of those communities have rented out land to shopping malls on the perimeters which has ruined the rural landscape along what were once beautiful wooded roads.
In some cases members could not agree on the direction of change. One example is Neve Yam, a once-beautiful kibbutz right on the beach adjacent to Atlit south of Haifa. Today its dwellings are dilapidated, the communal buildings are collapsing and the landscape is a mess of weeds and overgrown bushes.
It is not clear what is stopping a change of status at Neve Yam but certainly it is time for the government or local municipality to step in and cut the red tape.
Neve Yam is potentially a paradise for young families, by the beach and located with easy access to the Haifa-Tel Aviv highway and the railway station in Atlit. With careful planning, aesthetic and affordable housing could be built for a large community without spoiling the beautiful Carmel coast countryside around it.
For those with really inventive imaginations, there is the use of “tiny spaces.” The British program shown on the Good Life Channel has provided some ingenious ideas for renovating abandoned railway station waiting rooms, out-of-service buses and train carriages, not to mention mud huts. Most cities have space for an aesthetic alternative-home neighborhood and people with imagination could be rented a plot to build their own “tiny space.”
A win-win solution.
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