Luxury building projects geared solely toward foreigners come under fire

Primary reasons cited by people who have left city in years past are better job ops and more affordable housing.

nahlaot 298.88 (photo credit: courtesy)
nahlaot 298.88
(photo credit: courtesy)
As thousands of young Israelis continue to leave Jerusalem each year for better standards of living, a new organization of twenty-something Jerusalem residents has been established to find housing solutions for students and post-army young adults who want to stay in the capital. This sector is being squeezed out of the city by a tight housing market that increasingly caters to affluent foreigners. The group, Young Adults in Jerusalem, is trying to focus public attention on the difficulties that twenty-something Israelis are having in finding affordable housing in a city whose Jewish population continues to dwindle - due, in part, to the housing crunch and the dearth of affordable city rentals. The primary reasons cited by people who have left the city in years past are better job opportunities and more affordable housing available outside the city. The organization - which is promoting ideas such as offering contractors tax incentives for building student housing, and providing rent control for young Jerusalem adults - also criticizes the trend of contractors catering exclusively to foreigners who are buying up luxury apartments on prime city real estate, raising the price of the market, and then leaving the flats empty for much of the year. This subject has become a hot potato in a country that has long encouraged, and even urged, foreigners to make a property investment in Israel. "These people think they are investing in Jerusalem by buying up such properties, but in essence they are weakening the city, because the prices keep going up, and at the same time they are neither using nor renting out their flats for most of the year," said Amit Poni, 27, the organization's public coordinator. He asserted that most of the foreign buyers needed to realize that it was detrimental for the city as a whole to have prime city real estate lying empty for most of the year, and that they should at least rent the apartments out. "The Jewish people have to understand that Jerusalem is not the Hamptons in New York, and that we want a live and bustling city and not a ghost town," he added. The first-ever gathering of some 30 young adults last week to discuss this issue at a gallery in the city's Nahlaot neighborhood highlighted that there were more than a dozen luxury building projects under way in central Jerusalem that were being constructed especially for foreigners, and no building projects specifically for young people up to now. Some of the student leaders at the gathering suggested that foreigners who purchase property in Jerusalem be taxed, as they are in other countries, and that the levy be used to build affordable housing for young people. "The problem is that people think that when Jews from abroad buy an apartment in Jerusalem, they are doing it [in the interests of] Zionism and to further aliya, but in practice, most of these people do not immigrate to Israel and end up causing young people to leave Jerusalem because of the higher prices," said Lior Kopelovich, 24, who heads a Tel Aviv-based rent control organization. Some 30 percent of the nearly 5,000 apartments that foreigners bought in Israel last year are located in Jerusalem. "We cannot say no to Jews who want to buy property in Jerusalem, but we have to find the right balance," said Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat, the sole city councillor to attend the Wednesday night gathering. Barkat said the solution lay in the government and the city providing contractors with tax incentives. "If you give the building contractors tax breaks, they will build for young people," Barkat said. The apolitical city-sponsored organization, which operates out of a local community center, is working with both municipal and state officials to alleviate the housing shortage for young adults in the capital. It plans to mount a public campaign on the subject in the coming weeks, ahead of next year's mayoral elections.