Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Housing Crisis

Israel certainly faces its share of challenges: from the Palestinians to Hamas to Hizballah to Iran, there's never a lack of things to worry about. Funny thing is, though, that living here, you don't really spend that much time worry about the "big" things. Sure, if there's a war or an attack, God forbid, it occupies everyone's mind. But most of the time, life goes on. We have bigger things to worry about. And by bigger things, I'm talking about housing.
Everyone knows about Barack Obama's building freeze. But that's just in the "occupied" territories. (Just as an aside, over Chol Hamoed we took the family on a great tiyyul walking Nachal Kanah, walking from Yakir to Karnei Shomron. It surprised me a little to see that they were pounding away with the machines at a foundation for a new house in Yakir. Some freeze. It was also kind of a sad hike. The wadi is literally surrounded by Jewish settlements. Yet, my cousins - who were leading us on the hike - said that were it not Chol Hamoed, with security blanketing the area, they would not feel safe to hike the nachal on their own. But I digress.)
The housing crunch affects Israelis across the country. It's well-known that you can't buy a house, attached or not, for anything less than a million-point-two (or three) shekel. Same goes for an apartment in a major city. Sure, there are depressed areas you can buy in, but if you want a normal (read here: small by American standards) home or apartment in a regular area, it's just really, really expensive.
Combine that with the fact that Israelis build demographically: they build by constituency for a specific group, either Religious Zionist, Chareidi, Secular, Mixed - it's always built with a specific community in mind, which pits groups against each-other in the battle for available land. (that's what just happened in Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel. I heard that the Chareidim won, which isn't really a surprise, as there's a new Chareidi mayor in Beit Shemesh). And, if you want to build a new yishuv or small town, on the western side of the green line, forget it. Bureaucracy, green-groups and simple politics will bog you down for years.
So you think to yourself: one-point-four million shekel (the price just went up while you were reading) - that's not that much. It's only four hundred thousand dollars, give or take. A steal by Teaneck standards. Remember one thing: this aint Teaneck. And while an Oleh might be fortunate to have sold their overpriced New Jersey home for a prophet (forget about former Detroiters), what about a young Israeli couple, surviving on salaries that are about a quarter of American standards? It's American housing prices on Israeli salaries.
And that's a recipe for a housing crisis.