Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday called on thousands of Jerusalem apartment-owners living abroad to help tackle the city's housing crunch, proposing in a letter that their properties be rented to college students or young families when the owners are not in the country. According to the municipality, some 9,000 apartments in the capital sit vacant nearly all year-round, with their owners occupying them only during the summer or for major holidays. The ensuing long-term absence of residents in city neighborhoods, Barkat's letter explained, was causing "huge cumulative damage to the city's economy and housing market." "An empty apartment that is outside the housing market has a negative effect on Jerusalem," Barkat wrote. "An empty apartment means fewer customers at the local grocery store, fewer children in schools, fewer patrons of the neighborhood cafe, and most importantly - fewer young families living in the city. "As Jerusalem's mayor I am therefore asking you to consider renting the property you own to students or young families during the months of your absence from our city," Barkat added. "The Jerusalem Municipality will assist you in this and you will have strategic partners such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the institutions of higher education, all of which are interested in housing solutions for their honor students." In addition to the mayor's request, his letter announced a special public session of the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee, to be held in two weeks, that will be dedicated to Jerusalem's housing problems. 'Every apartment that is added to the market supply and is rented out to a young family or to students will create positive dynamics in the housing market," Barkat said. "Let's put our heads to together and think of ways to improve the situation." Barkat's letter did not address what was meant to happen to the tenants during the weeks the apartment owners chose to come to Israel. Critics of Barkat's move also noted that many such vacation apartments are high-end, luxury dwellings that would not be suitable for students or young families. Some owners, however, said that the notion their apartments sat empty all year was simply not accurate. "Even though I come at least twice a year, I pretty much have the place rented out to friends and neighbors almost year-round," said Marlene Kaplan, from Seattle, Washington. Kaplan, who owns a Katamon-area apartment, also said that fellow Seattle residents on sabbatical or other extended trips used the apartment as well. "So many people have experienced Jerusalem, and for that matter Israel, by staying there," she said. "And these are people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to do that. "The idea that we're some fat cats with swanky apartments isn't exactly true," Kaplan added. "That's not at all what's happening on my end of the world, really, my apartment is constantly being used." Nonetheless, Kaplan said she would agree to rent the apartment to people in need, however, she was planning on occupying it full time in the near future. "I'm making aliya within the year," Kaplan said. "Every other Jerusalem apartment-owner from Seattle that I know has already done the same."