Last week, the Ministry of Construction and Housing opened registration for a lottery for those entitled to take part in the Buyer's Price (Mechir Lamishtaken) program for 84 apartments in the Turquoise project between Caesarea and Jisr az-Zarqa. The 140 square meter apartments, several hundred meters from the Mediterranean beach, will cost about NIS 1 million.
Officially the project is part of the expansion of Jisr az-Zarqa, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden Arab towns in Israel. The new neighborhood is designed to help solve the severe housing shortage in the town but the likelihood that Jisr az-Zarqa's residents will be able to afford to new homes whether on the free market or through the Buyer's Price program is slender.
Only a small percentage of the new homes have been reserved for local residents while all Israeli young couples eligible for the Buyer's Price program can register for the lottery.
Jisr az-Zarqa Mayor Az-Adin Amash is not happy about the way the apartments are being marketed in the new project and would have preferred all the new apartments to have been allocated to his town's residents. He said, "Jisr az-Zarqa is under siege. It's been many years since the town has grown. Its area has remained 375 acres, of which 75 acres belongs to the state. The residents need a roof over their heads. We have no employment areas, workshops, and commerce. The town is completely penned in. It's as if the town is dead. We have a very tough housing situation, which influences all the residents. If somebody has money they don't stay in the town. Jisr is a time bomb, which can explode."
"The state comes along and says that it wants to plan West Jisr, alongside the coast. We have wanted this plan for 20 years and it was continually being shelved. We agreed to the plan because we wanted to see how the state would utilize the last land reserves for the benefit of the residents. We hoped that it would combine tourism so that it could help the townspeople live in dignity but after the tenders were published we saw that the people of Jisr would not be able to buy an apartment there."
Jisr Az-Zarqa has 15,000 residents who according to the Central Bureau of Statistics live in the country's second poorest socioeconomic decile. The town is one of Israel's most densely populated locations - 9,000 people per square kilometer compared with 3,200 per square kilometer in nearby Or Akiva. In contrast, Caesarea to the immediately to the north has 5,200 residents, including the private home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and is one of Israel's wealthiest local councils.
Can't people in Jisr afford to buy the new apartments?
Az-Adin Amash: "According to my records, we have 500 people without homes. What's the point of a grandiose plan like this, which will bring in people from the outside? Just because people have registered for the lottery doesn't mean they will be able to afford to buy an apartment."
Liran Chechik, an architect from Geshem Holdings, which is designing and building the project, said, "The masterplan which was drawn up nearly 10 years ago was meant to provide a solution for Jisr az-Zarqa, which has no land reserves to expand into and is trapped between the sea, the coastal highway, Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael and Caesarea to the south. This masterplan has four stages. In 2019, the first stage was drawn and now the second stage is taking place and in the future will be the third and fourth stages, which will also offer a small amount of commerce and tourism."
All four stages will offer 520 apartments for construction. Geshem Holdings won the tender for the 168 apartments in the first two stages.
What about the prices?
"We are selling the apartments in the Buyer's Price program at NIS 7,000 per square meter. You can buy a six-room apartment with a garden at a price of Nis 1.15 million. It's crazy. 200 meters away in Caesarea, it would cost five times as much."
Chechik is unable to estimate how much such an apartment would cost on the open market but he says that a 200 square meter penthouse would cost NIS 3.5 million.
Quite a few Jews are buying homes in the project. How will the neighborhood look?
"Nobody knows. If you look 15 or 20 years ahead then the extreme difference in prices between Caesarea and Jisr cannot stay the same. The day will come when such as gap won't hold water. The plan is designed as a tourist village near an untouched beach, one of the most beautiful in the country, and I believe that it will become a tourist village near Caesarea."
Is there demand from the Jisr az-Zarqa residents?
"A few months have passed and there hasn't been any interest. I don't know how many of those participating in the Buyers price apartments lottery could afford to realize their rights. Even spending NIS 1 million is no small sum. I don't know how many people in Jisr could afford that. Ultimately, after several rounds of the lottery, you can open the marketing to all those who are eligible regardless of where they live."
Who are Geshem Holdings target customers?
"We are marketing apartments 100 meters from the sea. You can't give that the same price as an old tenement apartment in Nahariya. You have to take the market segment who can afford that."
Chechik sees the new Jisr beachside homes becoming vacation apartments for wealthy people who will stay there three or four times a year.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 11, 2021
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