A green hub

There is not one Baka, but two: the old, pre-1948 Baka of lovely one-family homes, and the new, post-1948 Baka of ugly apartment blocks built by the government.

Baka 521 (photo credit: JUAN DE LA ROCA)
Baka 521
(photo credit: JUAN DE LA ROCA)
Baka – founded in the late 19th century, just after the completion of the Jerusalem Railway Station – is now one of the more trendy neighborhoods in the capital.
Back then, the station created the nucleus of a commercial center, and it was one of the reasons why wealthy middle-class families living within the Old City walls decided to make the area their home. It then became one of the garden, middle-class neighborhoods of Jerusalem, inhabited by both Muslim and Christian Arabs as well Armenians.
It was green with large spacious dwellings and private gardens – the epitome of middle-class living.
Baka lost its middle-class identity after the 1948 war.
When the cease-fire lines were drawn, Baka was situated in the western Jewish part of the city. The original inhabitants left in the wake of the fighting or were “persuaded” to leave. Whatever the reason, the quarter was emptied of its inhabitants and populated by new immigrants, mostly from North Africa. They were given accommodation in abandoned Arab houses, sometimes as many as three or four families to a house, and in consequence what was once a quiet, leafy middle-class neighborhood became a noisy slum.
Things started to change in the late 1950s with the building of Kiryat Hayovel. Some of the more socially mobile elements and solvent parts of the population were able to buy modern apartments in the new neighborhood, and Baka became less crowded.
The population still retained its low socioeconomic level – low-income families with low levels of education.
Nowadays, Baka is very different, combining the old with the new. It has palatial old houses that are restored and new residents – mostly upper-class, high-income, well-educated families, many from English-speaking countries.
In many ways the neighborhood has come full circle.
Once again it has become the abode of the middle class, a green neighborhood of spacious dwellings.
In the ’80s wealthy Jerusalemites and new immigrants from Western countries liked the large, spacious houses with private gardens, so different from the box-like architectural look of most apartment buildings. In most cases the houses were dilapidated and subdivided, but the potential was there.
Buyers offered prices that were 20 percent to 25% above the then-prevailing market. The process of transforming Baka from a slum into a prosperous, high-end part of Jerusalem had begun.
Everywhere, the process is the same: Infrastructure is redone and buildings are restored to their former glory.
Individuals buy houses and have them restored, while entrepreneurs buy one- or two-storied properties, add two or three floors and convert them into luxury flats.
Since 1998 the old railway station has not been used. It is now the center of a cultural hub that adds an additional aspect to Baka’s appeal.
Avishai Hertz, a well-known Jerusalemite real-estate agent and the Re/Max concessionaire of the Re/Max Ir Shalem agency, told In Jerusalem: “From a real-estate perspective Baka has some key advantages. It is a very pleasant area to live in. It is uncrowded with a lot of greenery.
From a social perspective there is a constant upward movement, with the old residents or their heirs selling out to affluent families at what is for them very attractive prices. In consequence, there is a constant upward pressure on prices, which makes buying property in Baka a good real-estate investment.”
But when analyzing the real-estate scene in Baka, one should note that there is not one Baka, but two: the old, pre-1948 Baka of lovely one-family homes, and the new, post-1948 Baka of ugly apartment blocks built by the government to house new immigrants in the Fifties and early Sixties.
The old Baka is popularly called “Lev Baka,” while the post-1948 Baka is called “South Baka.” Prices in the two areas differ considerably. In 2010 the average price per square meter in Lev Baka was NIS 27,000, compared to slightly less than NIS 17,000 in South Baka. In South Baka it is possible to buy an apartment for NIS 1.1 million; in Lev Baka a single family house on a 400-sq.m.
plot can cost NIS 14 million.
Moshe Babani, sales manager of the Anglo Saxon Real Estate Agency in Jerusalem, believes that the price differential is narrowing constantly. “The old ‘shikunim’ are being acquired by newlyweds who do not necessarily belong to a low socioeconomic group. They buy a small apartment at prices that are lower than in certain other areas of Jerusalem because there is a process of constant upgrading of the social makeup of the whole area. There are also cases where residents of Lev Baka buy these relatively small apartments for their sons and daughters so as to keep them near.”
One of the problems confronting the real-estate developer in Baka is the acute lack of building land. The only new projects in various stages of planning and construction are Hatzrot Baka, a 210-unit project in the southern area of Baka, and nine four-story apartment buildings with 65 dwellings in all. There is another 11-dwelling project at the corner of Rehov Naftali and Rehov Yehuda.
“New” does not include existing Arab houses enlarged by adding one or two floors.
Recent transactions
• An old, private one-family house of 340 sq.m. on a 425 sq.m. plot on Rehov Shimon was sold for upwards of NIS 14m.
• An old, renovated, enlarged 500-sq.m. house on a 651-sq.m. plot on Rehov Harakevet was sold for NIS 28m. The buyer intends to let the subdivided luxury apartments.
• A 105-sq.m. house on a 372-sq.m. plot on Rehov Reuven was sold for NIS 7.06 million.
• A four-room apartment, 90 sq.m., in South Baka was sold for NIS 1.2m.
• In South Baka a 60-sq.m. third-floor apartment without an elevator was sold for NIS 1m.
• A three-and-a-half-room 90-sq.m. apartment with high ceilings was sold for NIS 2.5m.
• A five-room, renovated 150-sq.m. apartment in Lev Baka was sold for NIS 3.63m.