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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘housing’

Cost of Lapid’s Housing Plan Estimated to Be Bigger than His Ego

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, has come up with a fantastic plan to solve Israel’s apartment shortage but it has one large problem –  a cost of approximately $14 billion, according to an estimate by Globes business newspaper. That may be par for the course for the former journalist who didn’t even finish high school, let alone specialize in math.

Approval of the plan has not taken into consideration how the government will pay for it. A large cost will be compensating owners of farmland where some of this planned 150,000 apartments are to be built.

“Contractors regret that no one consulted with them in drawing up the plan, assessors call it ‘hallucinatory,’” Globes reported. The land will cost the government approximately $12 billion but will have to be sold for far less  in order to make it a feasible investment for contractors.

The plan also faces heavy opposition from environment groups and the environment ministry.

Even the estimate of $14 billion is low, according to Israel’s Real Estate Appraisers Association chairman Ehud Danus, who said the final cost could be double after taking into considering necessary schools and parks.

The Ministry of Finance responded to the report with a weird admission of that “we’re talking about the preliminary stage, and as we accumulate the land for projects, we’ll budget the activity later on.”

Left Targeting Jewish Home Housing Minister for Ouster

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Gush Shalom, which defines itself as the “hard core” of Israel’s peace camp, is going after Jewish Home Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who is, apparently, to blame for anything that has and will surely go wrong in the explosive Middle East.

The reason Gush Shalom, headed by the aging but still very charismatic journalist Uri Avneri, who was the first Israeli newspaper publisher to meet openly with the late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, is going after Minister Ariel has to do with something he said this month:

“We should make clear to Secretary of State Kerry that Israel will never return to the Auschwitz borders, will not freeze the settlements endeavor, and will not agree to be sacrificed so that he could receive the Nobel Peace Prize. I am sure the prime minister will not be partner to abandoning Israel’s security.”

And on Sunday, on the occasion of the inauguration of the new neighborhood of Leshem in the town of Alei Zahav, a few miles away from the city of Ariel in Samaria, Minister Ariel said:

“It should be clear to any thinking person: there are no two states for two peoples west of the Jordan River, there will be no such thing, even if we’re sitting at the negotiations table, this is not on the agenda.” He then added: “We will build everywhere in the Land of Israel, and certainly in Samaria, and certainly in Judea.”

The reaction from the left was furious:

“With the winds of war blowing in our region, Housing Minister Uri Ariel pours more oil on the flames by establishing the new ‘Leshem’ settlement on the West Bank. In the inflammatory speech which he delivered on that occasion he shows himself a dangerous extreme right provocateur,” reads the Gush Shalom press release, responding to the Minister’s relatively benign, if somewhat excited statement.

The entire press release reads like the stuff Avneri used to dish out on a weekly basis, back in the roaring 1970s. The next paragraph is vintage Avneri:

“This is far from an unexpected development. Ariel’s rampage could have been predicted from the moment when the settler cat was placed in charge of the housing cream. Ariel is not a private individual, he the Minister of Housing in the government of Israel.”

It’s interesting to note that Alei Zahav, established a little over 30 years ago, in 1982, is more likely to vote Likud-Beiteinu than Jewish Home: its 130 families (now a few more, with the opening of the new neighborhood) are 80 percent non-religious. So you can’t quite accuse Minister Ariel of being the cat taking all the cream to himself – not if he shares the cream with other cats…

Also, Deputy Minister Ophir Akonis of Likud Beiteinu, who also graced the inauguration with his presence, repeated everything the minister had said: “There are indeed negotiating with the Palestinians, but that does not stop anyone from building homes in Israel,” he said. “Out of this place, a message is emanating, that a Palestinian state will never be established.”

“Look around you,” Akunis said, “who needs another Arab country in this area?”

Nevertheless, Avneri et al are after Uri Ariel, despite the fact that his message is not different at all from what’s being said these days by the majority of the Likud Beiteinu ministers. The reason is obvious: if you portray the situation as it is, meaning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni are way to the left of the government in which they serve, then you must abandon hope of the two-state solution becoming a reality in the near future.

But if you portray Jewish Home as the extremist, settler holdout in a government eager to plant a second Hamas entity right next door to Ben Gurion International Airport – then you’ve got something to work with.

This is precisely Avneri’s next point:

“There is not one government which is busy building settlements and spitting in the face of the Palestinians, and a different government which is supposed to negotiate and reach a peace agreement with the same Palestinians. It is the same government, and all its ministers are responsible for Ariel’s acts of provocation.”

Lapid Changes His Stripes and Tells Middle Class to be Patient

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

It’s amazing how an election victory can change the stripes of a tiger, namely Yair Lapid. The sensation of Israeli politics who campaigned on behalf of the middle class and denounced the government for promising their situation will be better, now says the same thing.

Barely three months in office and weeks after imposing austerity measures and higher taxes that hit the middle class hard, Lapid said not to worry. Just wait a couple of years and everyone will feel the changes for the better in the housing market, he declared.

Israeli media major a mountain of a molehill Sunday morning, headlining “social justice” protests Saturday that grew a grand total of 3,000 people, a measly turnout to mark the anniversary of the first “cottage cheese” protests two summers ago.

“People did not take to the streets because of housing or the price of cottage cheese, but because they felt that they were abused by the system,” Lapid said after Saturday night’s demonstration in Tel Aviv. “Most European countries would grab our situation with both hands,” he told Channel 10 television.

Lapid and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were the objects of derision at the protest, headed by “limousine liberal” Dafni Leef.

“Bibi + Lapid = Morsi” stated one sign. Another proclaimed, “Capital, government = the underworld.”

Solving One Problem, Sort of…

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

My issues with Satmar notwithstanding, I must give credit where credit is due. The Williamsburg area where Satmar Hasidim live has quietly created a trend of development that is somewhat counter culture – in a good way. In an era where gentrification has become standard for urban renewal Satmar has had its own – much more affordable version of that going on in its outer edges.

Gentrification is what happens to slums (or at best neglected neighborhoods) where the poor live when a city council and developers get together to try and eliminate those slums. Developers will buy out dilapidated buildings and either demolish them to build new upscale living quarters or rehabilitate existing structures that in their hey-day were quite upscale themselves.

When the original tenants moved to the suburbs (what used to be called white flight) and the poor started moving in these neighborhoods became neglected – some of them turning into slums. The residents could not afford to keep up the buildings and they became run down. That is an oversimplified – but I think fair description of what has happened.

Developers – seeking to attract singles or a working couple with no children whose incomes are well above average and expenditures far less that the average family would build housing suitable for this demographic… making them unattractive for most families and too expensive in any event. These dwellings are steeply priced. As an article in the New York Observer points out – in the trendier section of Williamsburg, a half a million dollars will barely buy you a studio apartment.

Satmar developers, ever mindful of the need of their growing community, have taken a different track. They have lobbied government officials successfully and have received zoning variances enabling them to build housing on what were once commercial and industrial zoned areas of Williamsburg. And they have built brand new and affordable housing for Satmar families where that same half million will buy a three-bedroom condo in a new elevator building.

True these structures will not win any architectural awards. “Strolling down Bedford Avenue, you’re greeted by a solid wall of new six-story brick buildings” says the New York Observer. They are obviously more functional than aesthetic. But they do have a clean and new functional look to them. In an area where a modest lifestyle is promoted, this type of housing is ideal. And again from the Observer (here comes the good part): “the ultra-Orthodox have succeeded in building thousands of units and keeping the neighborhood affordable for families—on private land, and without public money!”

I have been to these neighborhoods and seen these buildings. They are a far cry from the impoverished conditions I used to see there just a decade or so ago. It appears to be populated entirely by Williamsburg Hasidim.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that there is something missing from this seemingly idyllic picture. For one thing a half million dollars isn’t pocket change. The ‘modest’ incomes of most Satmar Hasidim doesn’t seem like enough to buy one of these units. Even if you factor in low down payments – there remains the very high mortgage payments. Which begs the question, where do these families with 6, 7, 8 or more children get the money to pay for that? It would therefore appear to be that only a more upscale (by Satmar standards) family can afford these units. Either that or some of these families must be getting subsidized. And if so, where is that money coming from? Philanthropists? Government welfare programs?

The building boom also had some controversy attached when public land was bought along with private land. From the New York Observer:

Black and Latino leaders claimed that the affordable housing complex—to be built on city-owned land, some of which would be seized by eminent domain—would give a disproportionate number of units to the ultra-Orthodox, as traditional public housing projects nearby had in the past.

Rabbi David Niederman, leader of the United Jewish Organizations, begged to differ, saying that both the public and private aspect of the rezoning are needed. “We believe in supply and demand,” he said. “Imagine if 200 people are fighting for one unit”—something that New Yorkers outside of Hasidic Williamsburg won’t have to try very hard to do. “Prices are going to go up like crazy.”

I personally see no problem with what Satmar did. They lobbied for the land and they got it. Black and Latino leaders could have done the same.

Milking the System, Legally

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

An article in lohud (Journal News) once again brings to mind the poverty of Hasidic communities like New Square. It appears that the poverty rate in New Square is so high that it is considered one of the poorest places in the nation. That means that most of its residents qualify for section 8 housing which a Journal News analysis has apparently shown to be the case.
New Square has the highest proportion of section 8 housing in the area. There are several technical reasons for this. But I don’t think it is arguable that this community is basically a poor one. 58% of its residents qualify for that dubious distinction. Nearby Kaser has an even larger percentage of poor people: 70%!

While the article focuses on section 8 housing and how it is apportioned, I think it is more important to focus on the reasons why this is the case. I believe it essentially boils down to the following 3 important factors: Large family size; the more expensive lifestyle of being an observant Jew which include additional expenditures on things like Kosher food and school tuitions; and education.

Hasidic enclaves more than any other segment of Orthodox Jewry have the largest families by far. 10 or more children per family is not uncommon.

The reason for that is the emphasis by Judaism on procreation. This is a Mitzvah in the Torah. We are required to fulfill the biblical commandment of pru u’rvu – “be fruitful and multiply.” Although the sexual act is not limited to procreation – it is certainly the primary purpose of it. How we fulfill that commandment (i.e. how many children… or whether we need one of each sex or not) is the subject of dispute among the poskim.

The question arises whether contraceptives may be used before or even after after one fulfills that obligation. And if so what kinds of contraceptives are permitted and what kind are not. I am not here to paskin, but there are many poskim that permit it based on various considerations. One should ask a competent posek whether their personal circumstances apply. The permit can range anywhere from universal permission when health (both physical and mental) is an issue to varied and eclectic personal situations where poskim will differ. Some are very lenient. Some – not so much.

It is no secret that Haredi – and even more so Hasidic communities are the most stringent in their application of such permits. It is relatively rare to find Hasidim that use contraceptives. I believe that Hasidic poskim rarely allow the use of contraceptives except in cases where the mother’s physical health is in danger. Hence the large families.

I am not here suggesting that Hasidim start looking for new poskim. I am only stating what I believe to be a contributing factor to the poverty among them. A typical family of 12 (10 children and the 2 parents) is pretty expensive to feed, clothe, and house.

Kosher food is certainly an increased expense for all observant Jews. I don’t see that as a primary factor in their poverty. But it is contributing one.

Tuition for Jewish education is a problem for every observant family as well. In fact I would say the reverse is true. The Hasidic schools are a lot less expensive than the non Hasidic ones. By far Modern Orthodox schools are the most expensive. But still, Hasidic schools aren’t free. And even though the per child expense is a lot less than other Orthodox denominations, the total per family cost may actually be greater if you compare the typical size of the Modern Orthodox family to the Hasidic one.

I doubt that those 58% of New Square and 70% of Kaser families that are below the poverty line pay full tuition. If you don’t have the money how are you going to pay it? How those schools function in communities that are so poor is beyond the scope of this post (except for one… more about that later). Suffice it to say that the schools are subsidized by a combination of wealthy donors, government programs, and much lower salaries for their teachers – who are probably also below the poverty line.

That brings me what I think is the biggest reason for their poverty – education. Or more correctly the lack of it!

I have been one of the loudest critics of the lack of education in the world of the extreme right wing of Haredim of the Yeshiva world. They eschew any secular studies in high schools so as to maximize their time on Torah study. This is the across the board view of the vast majority of Haredim in Israel and has increasingly become the attitude here.

They do not see working for a living as the primary function of a Jew. To the extent that one can, one should stay in the Beis Hamedrash full time for as long as possible. Preparation for the work place is not allowed to take away one’s time from Torah study. If one ‘doesn’t make it’ in ‘learning’ then he can go out into the workplace and earn a living as a second class citizen. Let him get training then. That is the attitude.

Ironically that is not the attitude of Hasidim. They do encourage their people to work for a living and support their families. They only encourage full time learning for the elite – those who will contribute to the klal via the Torah knowledge they gain – by becoming rabbis, poskim, teachers. For everyone else, supporting the family comes first. In the Hasidic world the average Hasid is encouraged to stay in kollel for only a short time and then to go find a job.

The problem is that many Hasidic leaders discourage any real preparation for a job. With rare exception – they do not allow their Hasidim to go to college. And their secular high school education is well below average. Many do not get any real training for the workplace. They are also discouraged from going into the outside world to look for jobs. They are instead encouraged to find jobs in their own community. So afraid are they of outside influences. In order to perpetuate this system they glorify the sacrifice of poverty as an ideal way of life – calling it living modestly.

I have no problem with living a ‘modest lifestyle’… or extolling its virtues. My problem is that people still need to eat, and pay rent. That requires more money than their impoverished lifestyles give them. The way they handle that is when it becomes a problem.

The Hasidic glorification of the ‘modest lifestyle’ requires too many to utilize every single means of support that the government gives to the poor. Whatever program is out there, they will find it and use it to the max. They milk the system albeit legally. Which is what section 8 housing is doing for the people of New Square.

They need the money to live and use whatever legal means they can to get it. Sometimes bordering if not crossing the line on fraud. As was recently reported in the media with e-rate.

Even if legal lines are never crossed – what kind of message does it send to the world that our vaunted Jewish minds are put to use to milk the welfare system for our own benefit? Is this how we are supposed to enlighten the world about the beauty of Torah?

And I only wish there was no fraud. We all know about the rabbinic leaders that have knowingly crossed serious lines of fraud to pay for the ‘modest’ lifestyles they demand of their people.

How many money laundering schemes will it take to realize that preventing people from learning how to support themselves is the single biggest contributing factor to the Hilul HaShem of fraud?

How many ‘perp walks’ by Kipa wearing bearded Jews will it take before this community realizes that their flock needs to be better educated in order to support their families?

How many years in prison by a prominent rabbinic leader or Hasidic Rebbe will it take in order to realize that encountering the outside world is a ‘necessary evil’ and the education must be provided so as to encounter it and make a living in it?

Is living the impoverished lifestyle that the demands of insularity entails really worth the Hilul HaShem of milking the system even legally, not to mention the almost certain fraud that all too often results from it?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Converting Denmark into a Muslim Country

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Muslim immigrants in a town near Copenhagen have forced the cancellation of traditional Christmas displays this year even while spending lavishly on the Islamic Eid celebration marking the end of Ramadan.

The controversy has escalated into an angry nationwide debate over the role of Islam in post-Christian Denmark, where a burgeoning Muslim population is becoming increasingly assertive in imposing its will on a wide range of social and civic issues.

The latest dust-up involves the Egedalsvænget housing complex in Kokkedal, a town situated some 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Copenhagen where Arab and Turkish immigrants now comprise more than half the total population.

At a recent meeting of the Egedalsvænget tenants’ association, the Muslim majority on the Board of Directors refused to authorize spending 7,000 Danish kroner ($1,200) for the community’s annual Christmas event.

The vote came shortly after the same Board of Directors authorized spending 60,000 kroner ($10,000) on a large communal celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid. Five out of nine of the board members are Muslims.

A Muslim member of the board, Ismail Mestasi, defended the decision to cancel the Christmas tree and party, arguing that no one had offered to organize the celebration. “No one wanted to take on the responsibility. A vote was taken and it ended as it ended. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I was asked to get the tree. And I didn’t want to.” But a non-Muslim board member, Karin Leegaard Hansen, refuted him, saying that she herself had offered to take on the responsibility, but that she was overruled by the Muslim board members.

The dispute, which is the latest in an ever-growing list of Muslim-related controversies in Denmark, was first reported by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) on November 7. Since then, the issue has snowballed into a national scandal and has become a key topic for public debate in the Danish media as well as in political circles.

A spokesman for the Danish Conservative Party, Tom Behnke, says he fears there are people who want to convert Denmark into a Muslim country. In an interview with DR News, Behnke said: “I think it is deeply alarming that our integration efforts are so ineffective that the moment there is a Muslim majority, we do away with good-old Danish traditions and introduce Muslim traditions instead. We are living in Denmark, and people have to adapt to the situation that applies here.”

When asked whether housing associations with a Muslim minority should sponsor an Eid party, Behnke replied: “We have to remember that in the past, an Eid festival was the Muslims’ victory celebration after they had slaughtered the Christians, so I don’t know how much there is to celebrate in Denmark. Still, people should be allowed to celebrate whatever festivals they want to, but they also must respect the festivals in the country they have come to.”

Behnke added: “There is no point in wanting to convert Denmark into a Muslim country because you yourself have a Muslim background. That must never happen. On the contrary, we must have mutual respect for one another. This is a lack of respect for Danish traditions and culture. We must not have a Denmark where Danish traditions disappear as soon as there is a Muslim majority.”

Danish police are now investigating an accusation of racism made against the Muslim board members. In an interview with the Copenhagen Post, police spokesperson Karsten Egtved said: “It needs to be determined to what extent the decision by the Muslim members of the board to first vote ‘yes’ to a 60,000 kroner Eid party, then ‘no’ to a 7,000 kroner Christmas tree to celebrate Christian traditions, violates laws by discriminating against Christians and their traditions.”

The Christmas tree controversy took an ominous new twist on November 12, when a van carrying two journalists from TV2 News was attacked by 25 masked hoodlums. The journalists had gone to the Egedalsvænget housing complex to film a report about the story, but immediately upon their arrival their van was bombarded with bricks and cobblestones. The attackers destroyed the van and chased the hapless journalists out of the area.

According to TV2, the perpetrators were Muslim youths who were seeking to silence media coverage of the Christmas tree dispute.

Mayor Bloomberg Gives Restoration Update

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said ion Monday that an  estimated 115,000 New Yorkers are still without electrical service, down from 145,000 yesterday. The lack of electrical service is affecting the health and safety of those living in those areas, particularly during the current cold snap which is expected to continue for much of the week.

Staten Island, The Rockaways, and South Brooklyn were hard hit, and many of the those affected live in public housing.

The next storm expected on Wednesday could bring more flooding, but not on the scale of Sandy, but it does make the restoration and cleanup more difficult and urgent; and dealing with immediate human needs is top priority.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/mayor-bloomberg-gives-restoration-update/2012/11/06/

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