A tiny structure – a shed, really – located in a single parking spot underneath an apartment building in the haredi city of Bnei Brak is the home of a young haredi couple and their infant son. It has one window, kitchenette, bed and tiny bathroom. The couple pays 3,000 shekels ($858) per month rent for it.
Living In A Parking Lot – The Haredi Housing Crisis Revealed
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Ha’aretz reports that a tiny structure – a shed, really – located in a single parking spot underneath an apartment building in the haredi city of Bnei Brak is the home of a young haredi couple and their infant son. It has one window, kitchenette, bed and tiny bathroom. The couple pays 3,000 shekels ($858) per month rent for it.
But this young family is not homeless, and it does not have to live in a parking lot. In fact, the couple owns an apartment in the largely secular Kiryat Haim suburb of Haifa. But the couple will not move there until other haredim move with them.
There are reportedly nine other haredi families living in that Bnei Brak parking lot. Some reportedly have several children. All pay similar or higher rents.
On that same block other apartment buildings reportedly have other haredi families living in parking lots, too, and haredim also live in storerooms and even in former hallways and porches, paying large amounts of rent for tiny barely livable spaces.
Haredim have sought to alleviate this country-wide haredi housing shortage by moving into non-haredi neighborhoods elsewhere in Israel. But that soon leads to haredi demands for their modesty standards to be kept by non-haredim and related demands and points of friction create conflicts and, eventually, cause non-haredim to flee in disgust.
Israel’s haredi cities – Bnei Brak, Elad, Betar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit – and Jerusalem’s haredi neighborhoods like Mea Shearim are all reportedly filled to capacity and beyond.
Haredim need about 9,000 new housing units each year just to keep up with population growth.
But special demands by haredim make development of those properties far less likely.
• While the Zionist Orthodox will use so-called Shabbat elevators that are programmed to stop at every floor on Shabbat to get around certain Shabbat restrictions, haredim will not. That means high rise apartment complexes for haredim can’t be built.
• Haredim want each low rise apartment to have a sukkah porch, which increases building costs.
• Haredim do not want parking garages or lots built with new developments because they mostly do not own cars. Non-haredim need those parking spaces.
• The also demand that mikvas and synagogues be built along with the new housing but object to parks, ball fields, and the smaller apartments many non-haredim with fewer children favor – meaning any development has to be haredi-only.
• Haredim also demand lower prices and the poor quality or low quality finishes that come along with that, and their buildings have no amenities past synagogues located in bomb shelters and the like. This not only drives away non-haredim, it drives away builders and developers who can’t turn much of profit on building like this.
Even when haredi parties controlled Israel’s housing ministry and its vast housing budget, few units earmarked for haredim were built.
According to the Israel Builder’s Association, only 3,000 of the 30,000 apartments built each year are haredi earmarked.
In the past 20 years, only 47,000 new housing units were reportedly built for haredim. Israel’s Housing and Construction Ministry says the haredi need a total of 80,000 new apartments to be built by 2020. So far, only about 3,000 of that number have been built.
“This, and nothing else, has led to the Haredization of neighborhoods in many areas. In meetings concerning mixed neighborhoods, I usually say, ‘Dear friends, as far as I know, Shimon Bar Yochai isn’t buried in Kiryat Hayovel, and there isn’t any center of religious-Haredi attraction there.’ All in all, they’re old apartments, dilapidated student apartments, project housing that the non-religious are selling to improve their standard of living. Haredi families want to buy just to have a roof over their heads in Jerusalem,” Avraham Kroizer, an adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on haredi issues, told Ha’aretz.
Haredim accuse secular Israelis of bigotry and say secular Israel views haredim and African asylum seekers as unwanted others they bar from their neighborhoods.
“This is a racist approach by people unwilling to live with those who don’t share their skin color,” Yossi Elituv, editor of the Haredi weekly Mishpacha magazine and a board member at Channel Two, reportedly said.
But Elituv and others like him fail to acknowledge the haredi bigotry toward non-haredim of all skin colors and affiliations, and the haredi-only neighborhoods and cities haredim seek out and often create through terrorizing the non-haredim who first lived in them.
And many also fail to acknowledge that there are non-haredim who have been priced out of Israel’s soaring housing market and are now homeless, sleeping on beaches and in parks or under bridges.
And there is a large population of non-Jewish African refugees seeking asylum who are also homeless.
Pinchas Zalzman, who heads the Neot Hapisgah real estate firm, and Rabbi Mordechai Bloi locate cheap neighborhoods with appropriate existing facilities for haredim and guide haredi families to move there.
“We examine the price level and ask about the neighborhood’s composition. If there is an Ethiopian population, which doesn’t easily pick up and leave, for example, we have no chance of buying up a quantity of apartments. Of highest importance are abandoned public institutions, synagogues without worshippers that can be easily reestablished. We aren’t interested in conquering [neighborhoods]. I am just looking for apartments for my people who have nowhere to live,” Zalzman told Ha’aretz.
Yaki Reisner, vice-president of Z. Landau Construction & Engineering, told the paper there are no projects currently being built anywhere in the country by any builder for haredim. Why? Lack of haredi purchasing power. As Israel’s real estate prices have soared, haredim remain poor – often because they eschew work and study in yeshivas well into middle age.
“When you do a sales campaign in Rosh Ha’ayin to sell apartments for 1.1 million shekels and 3,000 people sign up, this doesn’t just signify a housing shortage but purchasing power distress as well. In Modi’in Ilit, [haredim] were buying apartments 20 years ago at $48,000, and even then it choked them financially. Each set of parents put up $15,000 [not a trivial sum considering the many children a typical set of Haredi parents needs to marry off], the newlyweds took a $10,000 mortgage, and the matter was settled. In Elad, apartments already cost $75,000 10 years ago. In Beit Shemesh after Hefziba [the construction company that went bankrupt in 2007] folded, we sold three-room apartments for 570,000 shekels, which today cost 1 million shekels. But Haredi purchasing power hasn’t kept pace,” Reisner reportedly said.
“Buy into every neighborhood where apartments cost up to 400,000 shekels,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where. Go to [the small city of Tiberias] and buy for 400,000 shekels,” Reisner said.
“There is an unwritten pact between the Haredis and Israeli government. The governments sent them to the frontiers, so from the outset they weren’t meant to live in the heart of the country. In 1990, the government found Betar Ilit and sent these people with their fedoras and beards to settle such places. Afterward, they sent them to Emmanuel as emissaries for [hard line Likud politican] Uzi Landau and the rest. Unwilling emissaries, it should be noted, since all this [the West Bank settler enterprise] doesn’t interest them. And after we’re done settling the territories they want us to deal with the Bedouins,” Elituv, the haredi journalist fond of calling the government racist, reportedly said.
“They used us as cannon fodder. We were good for demographics, to populate settlements where we went, not for ideological reasons, but rather from desperate need. But when we ask for normal solutions nobody talks to us,” haredi real estate developer Rabbi Menachem Carmel told Ha’aretz.
“Modi’in Ilit and Betar Ilit aren’t ideological settlements. But look what’s happened now: We’re doubly screwed as both haredi and settlers, and Modi’in Ilit is suffering from the construction freeze,” Kroizer, the haredi adviser to Jerusalem’s secular mayor, complained.
“The problem is that it’s easy to target a ‘secular population’ but not a ‘religious population.’ There is a new project in Kiryat Gat with buildings 12 stories high. Why? Because they don’t want haredis — they said so explicitly,” construction company VP Reisner reportedly said, adding that providing parking for new buildings is a haredi deal breaker because haredim won’t pay 250,000 shekels ($71,000) for a parking spot for a car he does not have.
“You need to know how to build for haredim. A haredi needs a sukkah no matter what floor he’s on. He has no need for all the parking that regulations now require, because he doesn’t have two cars – he doesn’t even have one. He needs public parks for the [very young] children and schools, not sports fields or community centers,” Bloi, the haredi rabbi and housing consultant, reportedly said.
But despite all the whining and all the projection of blame onto secular Israel and its politicians, some actual haredi soul-searching is reportedly starting to take place.
“My own regrets concern the haredi lack of success in exploiting their purchasing power in the field of housing and the failure of the non-profit method. Haredi purchasing power is substantial in certain areas. Haredi supermarkets were once the cheapest, because the haredi sector knew how to exercise its purchasing power. But in housing it hasn’t succeeded. Another regret is that for the past four years, haredim held all the levers and controlled everything connected with construction — The Finance Committee, the Housing and Construction Ministry, the Israel Lands Administration, deputy Finance Minister — and still couldn’t manage to launch [the new city of] Harish through a tender restricted to the religious public — because they were afraid to,” Reisner told Ha’aretz.
Harish was intended to be a mixed city and was populated by its secular founders and by Zionist Orthodox when haredi politicians unsuccessfully tried to convert Harish into a haredi-only city – facts Reisner failed to mention.
Kroizer said haredim are “in favor of benefits for young couples whoever they are.…The government is handling the entire housing issue out of stupidity, not ideology. But my sector has grown 6 percent every year. I have needs. I am a citizen with equal rights, so find me a solution. It’s a ticking time bomb.”
The Housing and Construction Ministry says none of this is their fault.
“[Housing] tenders are open to the general population, and the winners are developers or non-profits who are interested in the land and believe they can sell the homes to their defined target market. The character of neighborhoods and settlements is no longer set in advance but according to whoever acquires the land and their target market. But it is clear there are localities where the buyers are expected to come from the haredi public,” the ministry told Ha’aretz, adding that it is trying to plan things so that homes are suitable for all sectors of the population and that the public spaces are, as well, regardless of who wins the tenders to build them and market them.