Students fume over lack of affordable housing in J'lem

One in every three new apartments in central Jerusalem were sold to foreigners in 2007.

housing biz feat 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
housing biz feat 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Less than a year before the Jerusalem mayoral race, students in the city are voicing increasing frustration with the Jerusalem Municipality over its failure to provide affordable housing for students and young adults in the city, and are planning to launch a public campaign on the issue in the election year. The increasingly vocal criticism comes as thousands of residents continue to leave Jerusalem each year for better quality of life after being squeezed out of the city in part by a tight housing market that increasingly caters to affluent foreigners. "On the one hand, everyone says that they want young people to stay in Jerusalem, and they always bring up the demographic issue in the city, and on the other hand the city does not act on the issue and says that in a free market there is nothing they can do," said David Uziel, 29, a graduate student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is one of the founders of a non-profit group working to create affordable housing for students. Several dozen students from the group, Melona, ("kennel" in English - referring satirically to the living accommodations students are forced to cope with) and similar organizations protested outside a Thursday night Jerusalem city council meeting that touched on the issue. "The city understands that this is a problem, but my sense is that, sadly, they know they are not dealing with the issue," Uziel said. The groups, which are promoting ideas as varied as tax incentives to contractors for building student housing, to rent control for young Jerusalem adults, also criticize the trend of contractors catering exclusively to foreigners who are buying up luxury apartments in the city on prime city real estate, raising the price of the market, and then leaving the apartments empty for much of the year - a subject which has been something of a hot potato in a country that has long encouraged - and even urged - foreigners to make a property investment in Israel. Jerusalem Municipality spokesman Gidi Schmerling said Monday that, unfortunately, the city did not have the legal authority to advance the proposals of the non-profit organization. He added that the group should ask Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat to ask his Kadima Party to enact legislation that would enable the Jerusalem Municipality can act on the groups' proposals. The primary reasons cited by those who have left the city in recent years are better job opportunities and more affordable housing available outside Jerusalem. "Without true cooperation from the city, it is hard to change things," said Elisheva Mazya, 27, an MA student at Hebrew University, the director of a group, Ruach Hadasha, which is affiliated with Barkat. "We tried to work via the municipality, but without success," Mazya said. The Jerusalem Municipality spokesman countered that as a result of city subsidies and stipends the number of students living in the city center has risen significantly from 150 in 2003 to 1,300 in 2007, adding that current construction projects underway in the city should lead to a drop in the price of city housing. One in every three new apartments in central Jerusalem were sold to foreigners this year, while 20 percent of all apartments in the downtown area lay empty most of the year, a recent study found.