Affordable urban housing

I haven’t heard a single voice raised on behalf of the undisputably essential need to offer affordable housing to young couples who can provide the much needed workforce for our cities.

Building project in J'lem 370 (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
Building project in J'lem 370
(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
Newspapers, websites, blogs and social media are suffering from an acute overdose of political recycling. We do not encounter any real innovation of thought or policy, but it is the politicians themselves that have been engaging in a kind of musical chairs, brought to a stop only when the time was up. At that point, those politicians who hadn’t found a seat while the music was playing found themselves left out of the game.
Throughout the performance we were all so swept up by the action that the major issues facing the State of Israel in general, and its capital city Jerusalem in particular, were all forgotten.
In the area of foreign policy the Left and Right continue to battle, without anyone proposing realistic future boundaries either for the State of Israel or for Jerusalem, as a statement of principle to be incorporated into their party’s political platform.
Such a statement of principle could guide the bewildered citizens, whose task, to identify leadership among the 34 lists competing for the Knesset, is not an enviable one. Such a statement would indicate a base point for future dialogue with the Palestinian Authority on the one hand, while also clarifying some basic misunderstandings as to how we define terms such as “settlement,” one of the most abused words in the global discourse about the conflict in our area.
What about our internal affairs? Is there even an echo of the brave voices from the summer of 2011, which demanded not only social and environmental justice, but also a more equitable distribution of the economic burdens of our country? Our productive middle class, both the backbone of the Israeli economy and the source of our military resilience when called up for reserve duty, is so severely challenged that millions took part in the 2011 demonstrations all over the country.
This was indeed a strange spectacle, when the solid middle section of the socio-economic spectrum came out into the streets, including young couples and entire families.
Their goal is based on an urban ideology, and ultimately the solutions to their problems lie in the potential capacity of Israel’s cities to supply their needs. A major challenge, for example, is the need for national legislation to establish the mechanism whereby young couples can qualify for affordable housing in cities. This was one of the major goals set by the current municipal leadership in Jerusalem.
Indeed, the Jerusalem Municipality came up with a formula for affordable housing that was approved after much debate and deliberation by our Urban Planning Committee and then endorsed by the City Council. Yet the Trajtenberg Commission, set up by the government after the massive 2011 summer demonstrations with the aim of relieving the economic burden borne by our beleaguered middle class, refused to adopt the most important of the recommendations we put forward, which stipulated that couples would be entitled to affordable housing only if both members of the couple were in the work force, with a minimum capacity of 150 percent employment between them.
It is important to give some thought to the implications of the watering down by the government of the Trajtenberg recommendations. This process once again left young, productive and hardworking couples out in the cold, enabling only families on welfare to qualify for affordable housing.
Throughout the rhetoric of the past few weeks of musical chairs, I haven’t heard a single voice raised on behalf of the undisputably essential need to offer affordable housing to those very same young couples who can provide the much needed workforce for our cities, but who are unable to sign on for an urban future simply because they don’t qualify.
We don’t have to continue acting out this comedy of errors, in which the Construction and Housing Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Knesset Finance Committee are portfolios of those sectors in our society that sincerely believe that affordable housing should be made available only to the deserving poor.
In these circumstances the much needed legislation will never be advanced. Moreover, in order to remedy the rift between national and local government policies, new and innovative tools are needed. It will undoubtedly require a strategic change in government policy, to enable local authorities in Israel to look to national leadership to help achieve Israel’s urban goals.
Since 93% of Israel’s population live in cities, and Israel rates as the most highly urbanized city in the Western world, central government will have to take a bold step and start to view local government as the chief agent for implementation of national goals.
The writer is deputy mayor of Jerusalem, with planning and environment portfolios. She was formerly director of the Urban Chapters of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and was the founder of the Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition, which brought together dozens of environmental and social action groups from all sectors.