At cross purposes?

Residents and the municipality are at odds over an evacuation-construction project in Kiryat Menahem.

Hanurit Compound 521 (photo credit: Mike Leiter)
Hanurit Compound 521
(photo credit: Mike Leiter)
This column has dealt more than once with cases of conflicting interests between the city’s residents and those who hold the reins of power. This is one of those cases in which the gap between the two sides is so wide that one wonders if it can ever be bridged.
Here is the story of a specific case in which misunderstanding, confusion, suspicion and even lack of basic trust have led the parties to the total freezing of what seemed to be quite a positive project.
The Hanurit Compound is a small area in Kiryat Menahem that is made up of about eight apartment buildings. Over the years, it has suffered from neglect and lack of funding or attention from the authorities. It has become a typical center of poverty in which some of the most underprivileged residents subsist.
Recently, grassroots organizations, social activists and some budgeting from the neighborhood’s rehabilitation projects of the Construction and Housing Ministry have improved the situation somewhat, especially by creating an integrative community of immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia and veteran immigrants who arrived from North Africa in the 1950s.
So far, none of this is really new or surprising, except for the fact that this neighborhood is one of the last reserves of land that can be used for some much-needed construction projects This has been the situation for decades, until a new component caused a major change – yet the parties still remain divided.
For Amit Poni, who is responsible for the various renewal projects of the Jerusalem Development Authority, it all began when his department came across a tender to sell commercial plots near the Hanurit Compound.
“We realized that if the entrepreneur who owned the land was beginning to sell the plots for businesses, that could rule out forever any project to renovate the compound through an ‘evacuation- construction’ project we already had in mind,” explains Poni. Thus the JDA, together with the municipal planning and construction committee, decided to promote its renewal project for the compound as quickly as possible “We knew that once shops were built and opened, we would be prevented from developing and implementing any construction project there. It is such a small compound that it wouldn’t be possible to facilitate both at the same time,” says Poni.
The master plan for the southwest part of the city (where Kiryat Menahem is located) that the JDA had in mind was to link the commercial and residential projects together and launch a largescale evacuation-construction project that would replace the compound’s 904 apartments with 3,200 new ones (1,000 apartments in the first stage of the project) in 20 to 30 towers of 27 to 32 stories each. These numbers are based on the principle that a developer should obtain the right to build four new apartments in addition to the one he will replace for the existing residents.
For some of the residents of the Hanurit Compound and the vicinity, this project is nothing short of a disaster. Resident Mike Leiter, who has been a member of the local community council for years, says that he and his neighbors fail to see anything good about the project. He says that not only is the infrastructure of the neighborhood unable to support such a large influx of residents, but the way the project is being promoted by the municipality has raised the residents’ suspicion that it is aimed to oust the residents to make room for more well-to-do homeowners.
“At one of the meetings with Inbal Peretz, the architect of the project from the municipality,” recalls Leiter, “she ended her presentation by saying that this project would bring ’good residents.’ Well, I am not the only one here who understood those words as a clear plan for a social cleansing of the neighborhood,” he concluded angrily.
A municipal spokesman responds: “These are claims expressed by a small minority of residents. Inbal Peretz was misunderstood. What she meant was that the project would considerably improve the quality of life for the residents, who will, as a result, have new and larger apartments that are protected from the risk of earthquakes and will increase the value of their property. The project also includes solutions for parking and traffic, as well as the development of the environment. The project has the full support and participation of the residents and the local neighborhood council.” •