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Building Luxury by Rhonda Spivak

Neighborhood of French Hill, by Rhonda Spivak

Downtown Jerusalem looking out to Hebrew University. photo by Rhonda Spivak


By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B. Feb 1/2009

On a clear sunny day, an Israeli archeologist working in Jerusalem looks out over the city from the top of the bell tower of the Jerusalem YMCA on King David Street.

Skyscrapers and evidence of the construction of upscale projects is everywhere, and in the distance the naked eye can make out the route of the security wall that winds its toward Bethlehem.

She looks out onto the prestigious residential King David Project that the Azorim company is erecting.

"Just what we need, another luxury project for Diaspora Jews that will be another ghost town neighborhood," she says sarcastically. " It's too bad very few contractors are building affordable apartments so young Israelis can find a suitable place to live and stay here," she adds.

Anyone who looks through the real estate sections and supplements of the Jerusalem Post over the past year can review the coloured advertisements for a plethora of luxury projects all designed to cater to cater to the needs of
overseas English speaking buyers.   The Holyland Park project advertises
itself as "Israel's most luxurious residential towers." The Jerusalem of Gold residence advertises itself as "The most sought after address in the Jewish world,"  " A  new standard of living the likes of which Jerusalem has never seen before." 

The  Metzudat Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Citadel) project under construction on the Sherover Promenade, overlooking the panoramic view of the old city, includes  a luxury spa, heated pool and jacuzzi,  fitness room, leisure activity rooms, reading room, coffee shop, art workshops, computer rooms, cinema, synagogue,  and a 24 hour limousine service.

In Rehavia and Talbieh, "for sale" signs are in English or French, and the agents don't even bother to add  Hebrew, because the average Israeli can not possibly afford to buy there.

Thirty percent of the nearly 5000 apartments that foreigners, mostly affluent Diaspora Jews, bought in Israel last year are located in Jerusalem.
In 2007, one out of 3 new apartments in Jerusalem were sold to foreigners while 20 percent of all apartments in the downtown area lay empty most of the year.  Since these apartments are bought as second homes, if they are rented out it is usually for short term holiday rentals.

Amos Nadan, an economist who is a senior researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lives in West Jerusalem says "The massive purchase of flats and houses by Diaspora Jews is not healthy for the city.  This has caused sharp increase in the prices of houses and flats in the city.  The outcome is that every year thousands of young couples and students cannot afford to
live in Jerusalem and have to leave.   This phenomenon is also problematic
because it highlights the huge segregation between rich and poor in Jerusalem, which is considered the poorest city in Israel.  The gaps can be seen in every realm, from malnutrition and poverty to education and employment."

Nadan rejects the claims by those who believe that the development of the luxury market in Jerusalem  serves to strengthen the city economically.
"There are many better ways to this.  There are many projects waiting for assistance, such as support for more businesses to come to the city."

According to Nadan, another negative outcome of the boom in luxury apartments "is that there are several neighborhoods, the most extreme case being that of Mamilla, where flats are deserted most of the year.  This
situation negatively affects everyday life.    Think about living in a
neighborhood that is half empty.  Would you feel safe  to live there?  Is it cost effective to open a supermarket, a nursery, or a school there?"
Last year a new organization of Jerusalem residents in their twenties, called Young Adults in Jerusalem has been established to find housing solutions for students and post army young students who want to stay in Jerusalem. The group is promoting ideas such as tax incentives to contractors for building student housing and rent control for young Jewish adults. The group also criticized contractors for catering to overseas buyers.

I meet a masters student at the Hebrew University, has been looking for an apartment to rent with her boyfriend. "Since the sale price of apartments has jumped so dramatically, rents have also jumped. We haven't been able to find an affordable apartment.  We thought we would rent in French Hill, since it is so close to the University, but everything there is so expensive now." 


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.