Even if more land is made available, will we see construction of Strauss or the Tnuva Buildings providing affordable homes for ordinary people?
By YEHUDIT COLLINS
There has been a lot of local talk, both by pundits on the radio and by us common folk as we ride buses, comparing the cottage cheese boycott with the sit-in for affordable housing.No one seems to have noticed, however, that one word can sum up the root cause of both the rise in the price of dairy products and the fact that an affordable apartment is beyond the dreams not only of students and young couples, but also older folk on a fixed pension that is gradually shrinking in value.The one word that says it all is greed – the greed of companies looking to maximize their profits and the bonuses paid to their CEOs and shareholders while holding down the salaries of their workers, and the greed of property developers and contractors.The boycott of cottage cheese has some chance of success due to the fact that dairy products can either be avoided or substituted, at least for a while, and because of their short shelf life.The property market has no such solution, in spite of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s call to cut the bureaucracy and free up more land for building.WHEN MY grandparents arrived in the UK as poor immigrants, they found a home in what were colloquially called “The Buildings.”The buildings were dark, cramped and very, very basic; nevertheless, they provided four walls and a roof for those who could not afford better.“The Buildings” took their names from the trusts that financed them: the Guinness buildings, the Peabody buildings and so on.To take the example of the Guinness family: Their politics and their morals may have been questionable, but they invested part of the considerable fortune that they made from brewing into a trust fund that went to finance the blocks of apartments named for the family.Here in Israel, there are no “Buildings.”Public housing as such barely exists anymore.Instead, we have oligarchs who invest their capital in constructing grandiose high-rise apartments for what a late friend once aptly described as homeless millionaires, many of whom spend more time in one of their other residences abroad.Here, the aim of the rich, beyond the dreams of common man, is simply to make more money. With enough money to last their comfortable lives and to provide for their children and even their grandchildren in perpetuity, they just do not seem to be able to get enough of the stuff.For instance, the infamous Holyland project in Jerusalem was built by the wealthy for the wealthy; it seems to have made a great deal of money for the architects and contractors, while only providing a modest wage for those who labored on the site.That land could and should have been used for affordable and decent housing.And it could and should have been designed in such a way that, instead of being an eyesore and a blight on the Jerusalem skyline, it would have promoted aesthetic taste and social conscience.Then there are the apartments that remain empty for months or even years because the owners have enough capital to refuse any reasonable offer that does not meet the exorbitant level they feel they deserve.And if we must share out the blame for the current situation in which, as the words of the song have it, “the rich get rich and the poor get children,” we cannot excuse those at the top. Among our top politicos today, where are our bus-travelling, shopping-schlepping Golda Meirs? Where are our modest-dwelling Menachem Begins? In short, where are the leaders who remember scraping up enough money to provide a pot of cottage cheese or who make do with a modest home? Instead, we have our penthouse-living millionaires completely out of touch with the cares and woes of the proletariat they purport to support.So even if more land is made available, will we be able to look forward to seeing the Strauss buildings or the Tnuva buildings? Somehow I doubt it. But if it were to happen, perhaps we would not begrudge spending on cottage cheese, knowing that at least some of the profits were being dedicated to the general good. The write made aliya in 1979 from the UK with her husband and two of her three children, initially living in Karmiel. She is a retired office administrator who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 21 years.
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