Shedding a negative image

For years the poor relation of nearby Caesarea, Or Akiva now offers a more affordable alternative with the same employment, commercial opportunities.

Or Akiva city view 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Or Akiva Municipality)
Or Akiva city view 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Or Akiva Municipality)
Or Akiva, a small town next to the upmarket city of Caesarea, started life in the early ’50s as a ma’abara (transit camp) for the multitude of immigrants who flooded the country at that time. The vast majority of residents came from Morocco, and when the Construction and Housing Ministry built permanent housing for the ma’abara residents, it did so in the area of the transit camp.
Those residents who were qualified to fulfill the new state’s manpower needs and could find jobs left the ma’abara and found accommodation elsewhere. Those who remained – the vast majority – were difficult to employ; they had been small shopkeepers, and under the changed circumstances they were only suited to low-paying manual jobs.
As a result, Or Akiva was not a place that most Israelis wanted to live.
Further highlighting the town’s relatively sorry state was that it was located next to one of the most expensive areas in the country. Modern Caesarea was established in the late ’50s by Edmond de Rothschild, and soon wealthy families from the Diaspora and Israel – including de Rothschild himself – built themselves palatial residences there.
The contrast between Caesarea and Or Akiva could not have been greater.
The government had built low-cost apartment blocks in Or Akiva that looked like tenements – simple 40-to-60- square-meter apartments in three-story blocks – as well as single or semidetached residences of similar size on what would now be considered large plots of land (800 to 900 sq.m. – a common size at that time). These latter homes are now greatly in demand because of their large yards, which can be turned into handsome gardens.
Or Akiva started to change for the better in the ’90s. It all started when the government decided to settle the new immigrants who were arriving from the former Soviet Union. When this settlement process was more or less complete, half of the by-then-16,000 inhabitants of Or Akiva hailed from the FSU.
This started a virtual revolution. First of all, the government built new housing to accommodate them, of much better quality than the old housing built in the ’50s and ’60s. In addition, many of these newcomers were well-educated, with university degrees and consumers of high culture. Many young people who had thought of leaving Or Akiva for what they saw as greener pastures changed their minds because they realized that things were changing there.
Gradually people from outside the town started coming, because housing there was much less expensive than in surrounding towns such as Binyamina, Zichron Ya’acov and especially Hadera.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, one could buy an apartment in Hadera for nearly twice the price of one in Or Akiva, and Hadera is a mere 10-minute drive away.
Today, Or Akiva has 20,000 inhabitants, and that number is expected to double by 2020.
Currently demand for real estate in the town is brisk, even though the price differential between the town and Hadera has nearly disappeared and the contrast between Or Akiva and Caesarea is less marked. The wealth differential has decreased somewhat; many Caesarea residents shop in the Or Akiva mall, while residents of Or Akiva are members of the Caesarea Golf Club, which in many ways is Caesarea’s social fulcrum.
Another selling point of the town is its accessibility. Located 30 kilometers south of Haifa and about 65 km. north of Tel Aviv, it has excellent road and rail connections with all areas of the country and is highly accessible to employment centers – including the Caesarea industrial park, which is one of the largest and most modern in the country.
Or Akiva also has easy transportation to the hi-tech industrial parks and logistics centers in Netanya and Herzliya, as well as to Haifa’s Matam Park, one of the country’s leading hi-tech centers.
The new face of Or Akiva has had a strong impact on the real estate scene there, and current prices reflect the improved situation. In the Kennedy neighborhood, which was built in the ’60s, a three-room apartment of up to 70 sq.m. costs between NIS 450,000 and NIS 550,000, while a single-family home with a large plot of land costs well over NIS 1.25 million.
In the Orot neighborhood, built in the ’90s, an average three-room apartment costs NIS 650,000, while an average four-room apartment can cost from NIS 650,000 to NIS 730,000. A semidetached home costs NIS 1.5m. on average. In the new Hayovel area, built by private developers, an average four-room apartment costs NIS 1.1m., an average five-room apartment is NIS 1.3m., and a single-family home on a plot of 500 sq.m. with a 220-sq.m. built-up area costs over NIS 2m.
“When analyzing the real estate scene in Or Akiva, one must realize that there are three distinct kinds of dwellings,” Vadim Abramov, the manager/proprietor of the Re/MAX real estate branch in Or Akiva, tells Metro.
The first two, he says, are “the old Jewish Agency type of buildings built in the ’50s, [and] the apartment buildings built in the ’90s. These two types of buildings are very different from each other, but they have one thing in common: They were built either directly by the Housing Ministry, as was the case with the building programs of the ’50 and ’60s, or built on its behalf, as was the case with the building program of the ’90s. In both cases, the developers took no risks.”
In the third category, he continues, “private developers have building projects in Or Akiva, because demand is brisk and they know they can sell their wares.”
So what is it that Or Akiva has to offer, when Hadera is a mere 10-minute drive away and prices are nearly equal? According to Mayor Simha Yosipov, the city has “much to offer young married couples and middle-class new immigrants.”
Citing the city’s “excellent educational, cultural and physical infrastructure,” he explains that Or Akiva is “in a very central location with easy road and rail access to all parts of Israel. We are near important industrial and employment centers, the new housing projects are of high quality, and we have a very good educational system. Our residents have good employment opportunities, housing at low prices, education for their offspring and a well-developed commercial infrastructure.”
And while Hadera may have comparable prices, he continues, “some people prefer the quiet atmosphere of a town like ours to the bustle of a city like Hadera.”