Chances dwindling of dream Israeli house and garden

New housing in Avshalom near the Gaza border / Photo: Company for Promoting Expansion Projects

In 2010, 40% of homes built were houses compared with 23% last year. But construction of houses near the Gaza border is booming.

The Israeli dream of living in a house with a garden is gradually vanishing. There have been fewer and fewer housing starts (as opposed to apartments) in recent years.

An analysis of figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics on house and garden starts shows that construction on them has plunged in the past decade.

In 2010, construction began on 15,582 houses, amounting to 40% of all housing starts. In 2018 construction began on 10,610 houses, amounting to only 23% of all housing starts.

In the first half of 2019, construction began on 5,990 houses, amounting to 26% of all housing starts, slightly more than in 2018, but far short of a reversal of the trend.

One of the reasons for the decline in the construction of houses is a decrease in marketing by Israel Land Authority (ILA) of land for construction of houses. Israel Planning Administration director general Dalit Zilber has warned at several forums that if a plan for expansion of a rural community including houses with gardens is submitted to her, she would dismiss it out of hand.

The main reason for the refusal of planning authorities to approve houses is the wish to increase density and preserve open spaces, combined with the difficulty in supplying suitable infrastructure (transportation, education, health, and culture) for a population spread out in small and remote communities.

The huge failure in building transport infrastructures in Israel is now burdening the lives of people having to come to central Israel from rural areas, where most houses with gardens have been built.

Ofra Hadad, VP and co-owner of the Euro-Israel (YS) construction company, says, "In recent years, the state has been marketing almost no land for construction of houses in new neighborhoods. Contractors who want to build private housing units now have almost no way to buy land from the state."

Hadad is right. A check of the ILA website shows that 66 tenders for construction of private housing units have been published since the beginning of the year, and 400 lots were marketed, mostly to private individuals in the "Build Your Own Home" plan. As a result, we can expect to see the continuation of the downtrend in construction of houses in the coming years.

Despite the downtrend and the planning authorities' wish to switch to high-density construction, keep in mind that one quarter of all housing starts in Israel are still houses.

50,000 houses, most of those in the past decade, were in northern Israel, where rural communities account for a large proportion of all communities. In second place is the central district, which also has a large number of rural communities, followed by the southern district, another outlying area with many rural communities; Haifa district, Judea and Samaria, and Tel Aviv.

The most prominent town for housing starts is Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in Israel. Unexpectedly, the second community on the list is Jerusalem. Quite a few houses have been built there in the past decade in neighborhoods such as Pisgat Zeev, Ramat Shlomo, and others. Third on the list is Rishon Lezion, where houses have been built in Nahalat Yehuda and the western part of the city. This is followed by Sakhnin and the Pardess Hannah-Karkur Regional Council.

Why are lots still being marketed for houses in central Israel, even in the Afeka neighborhood in Tel Aviv, when the announced goal is to make construction denser, especially in the central region? The answer is that these are old plans. In various locations in central Israel, there are more lots for construction of individual homes based on old urban building plans, for example in Arsuf, Afeka in Tel Aviv, Denia in Haifa, and others.

In the missile-bombarded area surrounding the Gaza Strip, construction of houses is booming. Ministry of Construction and Housing director of village affairs Osnat Kimchi says that the village affairs department has developed a toolbox to encourage families to move to outlying rural areas. These families receive subsidies for development of the lots that can amount to up to 70% of the cost. "Following Operation Protective Edge, the government made a decision designed to strengthen the communities around the Gaza Strip, in which the communities receive lots at no cost. In other words, we subsidized the entire cost of development up to a ceiling of NIS 180,000. All they had to do was come and build theire homes," she said.

Results soon followed. Martin Siorno, owner of the Meshakim Banegev agency, which markets lots and private homes, reports a leap in demand for lots in the area, which is marked as one of the most dangerous areas in Israel. "There are a number of house models available for you to choose, and to sum things up, you can build a house at a total cost of NIS 800,000-840,000," he says.

Who is moving to the area next to the Gaza Strip? "The people moving are young families from the central region. We asked one of the new women residents, 'What brings you to Kfar Aza, with all the missiles?' She answered that she had raised her children in Petah Tikva, and didn't let them ride their bicycles on the street. As for the missiles, she said that there were two days of red alert a month, but the children moved around outside by themselves the rest of the month, and she wasn't worried."

Kimchi also notes the strengthening of Sderot as a significant factor in strengthening the rural communities near the Gaza Strip. "Sderot itself became stronger by absorbing many young families. Residents of the villages around it do their shopping in Sderot and go to the movies, theater, and hobbies there. It's the big city for them, and it's a model for how a central city and rural communities reinforce each other," she says.

Kimchi mentions occasional criticism of this project because of the land that is supposedly being wasted, but she responds simply that there is no other way to bring new residents to such places.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on December 31, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

New housing in Avshalom near the Gaza border / Photo: Company for Promoting Expansion Projects
New housing in Avshalom near the Gaza border / Photo: Company for Promoting Expansion Projects
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