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May 6, 2016 / 28 Nisan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘housing’

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.

Harry Maryles

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.

Harry Maryles

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.

Soeren Kern

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.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Bank of Israel Restricts Mortgages Severely, Looking to Avert Future Real Estate Crises

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

The Bank of Israel’s Supervisor of Banks David Zaken on Monday published a draft directive limiting the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio in housing loans, as of November 1, Globes reported.

The new directive stops banks from giving mortgages with an LTV of more than 70%, with an exception for first-time buyers, who are allowed mortgages of up to 75% of the value of the apartment.

Mortgage customers who buy an apartment for investment will be limited to 50% LTV. The directive will go into effect after a discussion in the Advisory Committee on Banking Matters.

The Bank of Israel announced:

“In recent years, we have seen negative developments in the housing market and the housing credit market. The draft directive has been published against the background of the marked increase in recent years in the balance of housing credit and the increase in home prices in Israel. Recent trends in the housing market indicate an increased number of transactions, an increase in the monthly level of mortgages granted and an increase in investors’ volume of activity, among other things against the background of the low interest rate environment in mortgages.

“These developments impact on the risk level inherent in the banks’ credit portfolio – the accelerated increase in the housing credit portfolio on banks’ balance sheets is liable to include risks to the stability of the banking system, primarily in light of the correlation between the housing credit portfolio and the construction and real estate credit portfolio. These represent, as of June 30, 2012, about 40 percent of total balance sheet credit risk.”

According to the Bank of Israel, many of the recent financial crises in foreign countries began with granting housing credit at terms that did not reflect the risks developing in that market.

The new directive is intended, says the Bank of Israel, to reduce the effects of a crisis in the real estate market by reducing the risk inherent in taking out a housing loan with a high loan-to-value ratio.

Jewish Press Staff

5,000 Housing Unit Lots for Sale Across Israel

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

The Ministry of Housing and Construction and the Israel Land Authority have announced that land will be market across the country for 5,000 housing units.  The Housing Ministry said it hopes to bring the total number of new housing units this year to 35,000, as it did in 2010 and 2011.

New lands on the market include lots for 2,3000 apartments in Haifa and its suburbs, 30 in the Druze town of Dalyat al-Carmel, 96 in Yokneam, 1,150 in Afula, Rosh Pina, Katzrin, and Kiryat Shmona, as well as property in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi, and Beit Shemesh.

Malkah Fleisher

Re-Imagining Av – Signs of Hope in Jerusalem

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

During the Hebrew month of Av, Jews around the world mark the nine somber days of mourning followed by Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av), one of the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar. There are many reasons why we mourn during this period, but most famously it is because of the destruction of Jerusalem and the thousands of years of exile that ensued. Today, Jerusalem is showing signs of returning to its innovative roots, and while we are not theologians, this new spirit of social and entrepreneurial energy should be a cause for celebration for all those who care deeply about this city.

Jerusalem is a city about which many poems have been written, prayers read and songs sung, all inspiring intense emotions both for her residents and by people the world over. Yet, as the city continues to grow and surpass the rest of Israel’s municipalities in population and geographic size, Jerusalem also regularly appears on the top of the charts as Israel’s poorest city.

A related and perhaps most alarming phenomenon is the trend of negative migration from the city that saps the capital of much-needed human capital. Today, Jerusalem struggles to compete with Israel’s coastal cities in offering the high-quality, well-paying jobs that are needed to keep young, educated families in the city. Additionally, housing prices continue to rise at a rate that makes buying a home completely unattainable for those families. There is an ongoing competition with Tel Aviv with regard to culture and important quality of life factors, and it seems that not everyone wants to make their home at the center of such religious fervor like Jerusalem.

It does not need to be this way. Jerusalem of biblical times was the center of the world; not only in terms of purely religious beliefs, but also in what we would today call “social entrepreneurship.” In fact, the first Israelite Temple was built as a result of an innovative public collections system initiated by King David and brought to fruition by King Solomon. The Second Temple was reinstituted despite the lack of enthusiasm by the established leadership, and was the result of an all-out grassroots campaign by the Jews returning from Persia. Jesus, too, preached his message of social justice from the streets of Jerusalem.

We envision Jerusalem rising again as a center of social activism and entrepreneurship. The city has become a hub for young people fighting to reclaim and renew the ancient Jerusalem—and we believe the intensity and diversity which many point to as a negative is actually the city’s foremost advantage.

One striking example of this development is the budding community in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel. Originally built as housing for union workers and students, the neighborhood is today characterized by many different socio-economic populations, often poor and underprivileged ones that represent Israeli society as a whole. Today, thanks to organizations like Ruach Chadasha, scores of young idealistic students and families have been moving into Kiryat Yovel and working together to improve the neighborhood. Through educational and cultural programs that encourage communal Shabbat celebrations and mentoring young children, the organization has connected veteran residents in new ways to their neighborhood. Ruach Chadasha has also led the way to developing affordable housing models in Jerusalem, and and is currently working with its partners to develop the first built-for-rental housing project in Israel.

Another example of Jerusalem leading the way is the internationally successful Moishe House. By bringing together residents to live together and host diverse programs every month for their peers, the Jerusalem Moishe House empowers young adults to become facilitators and leaders of their community. When Moishe House first sought to establish a location in Jerusalem some were skeptical. Within a few weeks after the announcement, this center received more applications than those received at any of its global locations– demonstrating a thirst for pluralistic gathering spaces which celebrate diversity rather than blaming it for social ills.

Such programs are not created in a vacuum. Organizations like PresenTense step up to train these young social entrepreneurs and provide them with the tools they need to create innovative community start-ups that change and improve Jerusalem communities on a daily basis. While these start-ups often shine a spotlight on the less-than-desirable elements of Jerusalem, we tend to see the silver (or golden, in this case) lining. Jerusalem’s population, with all its complexities and problems, actually serves as a microcosm of Israeli society. By encouraging grassroots, entrepreneurial solutions in Jerusalem, we believe that the seeds are being sown for solutions to many of the challenges that Israeli society faces as a whole.

Charlene Seidle and Brachie Sprung

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/re-imagining-av-signs-of-hope-in-jerusalem/2012/07/29/

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