Neighborhood Watch: A hot ticket

The old central bus station and the surrounding streets and alleys are indeed attracting real-estate investors, even as it is fast becoming one of the most dangerous areas in Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv's old central bus station 521 (photo credit: Egged History Archive)
Tel Aviv's old central bus station 521
(photo credit: Egged History Archive)
Tel Aviv’s old central bus station has been described many times as the lowest place on earth, or at least in Tel Aviv. The term stems not from a topographical perspective, but from the area’s having become the abode of the poorest and most neglected sector of our society – the illegal immigrant. It is also a hub of drug addicts and prostitution.
Despite this, it has considerable appeal for real-estate investors who want to exploit this situation; the yields are substantial and can reach an annual 10 percent or more.
Dr. Rina Degani, a leading town planner and the CEO of research institute Geocartography, tells Metro that the old central bus station and the surrounding streets and alleys are indeed attracting real-estate investors, even as it is fast becoming one of the most dangerous areas in the city.
This African immigrant ghetto in the heart of Tel Aviv is expanding mostly to the south. The “route” to the west is blocked by Menachem Begin Road, a busy thoroughfare that acts as a barrier between the bus station area and the high-end residential tower going up on Rothschild Boulevard. A modern business area of upscale office towers blocks expansion to the north. But the route to the south is free, so to speak.
So where does the demand for real estate come from? The real-estate industry in this area is based on these illegal immigrants’ need to find accommodation at all costs.
Most do so by crowding eight people or more into small two-room apartments.
Some of the landlords rent beds, others rent rooms, and it is very profitable.
By renting beds, unscrupulous landlords can get a monthly income of over NIS 10,000, cramming six, eight and sometimes 10 people in a room. In some instances, these apartments operate on a warm-bed basis: Those tenants who work during the night use the bed in daylight hours, and those who work during the day use the bed at night.
These kinds of tenants need a special kind of landlord, and the landlords themselves need a special type of rent collector.
Degani says what is happening in this area of Tel Aviv is nothing less than scandalous.
“The people who inhabit that area are poor and live hard and cruel lives – at least the great majority of them do,” she says. “This is a social problem that has to be addressed, but in the meantime a not-small part of Tel Aviv is derelict.”
THE OLD central bus station has seen better days.
Built in 1941, it was one of the most modern for its time in the whole Middle East. It was designed in the Bauhaus style and was in many ways the transportation hub of Palestine. On July 31, 2009, after more than 60 years of activity, the Egged bus company stopped using the station altogether; its platforms were demolished and its days of glory ended.
In its heyday, the place was crowded, with shops and stalls and the surrounding streets and alleys populated by working-class local residents. In those days, it was a center not of crime and prostitution, but of transportation and commercial activity. Today, those who live there find it difficult to find work and earn a living, and many who would not otherwise turn to crime do it out of necessity, making for a social time bomb.
THE HEFTY yields the landlords obtain from apartments there are driving prices up all the time. During the past five years, real-estate prices in the area have more than tripled, from NIS 200,000 in 2007 to over NIS 700,000 today. A three-room apartment that cost NIS 300,000 six years ago can now cost from NIS 850,000 to NIS 900,000.
Anything coming onto the market is snapped up, and with good reason. A typical two-room apartment with eight to 10 people in it, four or five beds to a room, can yield a yearly gross income of up to NIS 100,000 on average. Rent collectors take 20% of the rent, which leaves landlords with NIS 80,000 – an annual yield of nearly 9%.
Compare this to yields of up to 3% a year in apartments in other parts of Tel Aviv, and you start to understand why the old central bus station is one of the hot real-estate areas in the city.
With the old bus station proper demolished, the area is large – around 60,000 sq.m., suitable for building a couple of high-rise residential towers and utilizing the many commercialstyle buildings that are now unused or have been converted into dormitories.
But there are no takers. The cost of building apartments on this land is higher than the market price.
Consequently the land available is unusable – and this in a city with a chronic shortage of building space.
The old central bus station area will not be able to recover without municipal or government assistance. As matters stand, market forces will try to maintain the status quo. The only ones who want things otherwise are the remaining shop owners and residents who have aged and lack the financial means to move out.