Last week it was revealed that the Greek Orthodox Church sold its rights to 125 acres in the luxurious neighborhood of Talbia in central Jerusalem to an anonymous group of investors. The lands had been leased for decades to the Jewish National Fund via leases that are about to expire – homeowners have now learned that the church had sold its rights to these lands to private entrepreneurs, Globes reported Tuesday.
More than 1,000 housing units in a large number of residential buildings are owned by residents who paid good money to various contractors only to discover now that they actually own only the apartments only, not the land which they used to lease from the church.
At this point, the homeowners’ future is unclear, and those who have attempted to sell are facing difficulties, due to a growing uncertainty. There have already been reports of a decline in the value of these apartment, because potential buyers are shying away.
On Wednesday, the Knesset Interior Committee, chaired by MK Dudi Amsalem (Likud) demanded that the Israel Land Authority and the JNF establish a solution that will enable the extension of the leases.
MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) told the committee: “We will not abandon the residents. If the JNF does not deal with the matter, we will enact a law that will protect them. It is inconceivable that the whole process of selling the church lands was conducted over the heads of all the Israeli authorities.”
“The church is talking to a group of mysterious entrepreneurs we don’t know,” MK Azaria complained. “Jordanian MPs are talking to the Church, and only those who actually live on the land remain in the dark.”
Speaking to Globes, MK Azaria explained, “These are lands that the Church leased to the JNF in the 1950s for a period of 99 years, on which buildings were built and residents have lived there for decades. The residents knew that in a few years the agreements were about to expire but assumed that the JNF lease would be extended for an additional period.”
“A few months ago, members of the Yerushalmim faction in the Jerusalem city council learned that in 2011 private entrepreneurs had received from the church a lease extension for some of the land for 200 years, and another group of investors signed a similar agreement a year ago,” Azaria said.
As a result, members of the city council have been receiving many inquiries from frightened homeowners who do not know what would happen to their property. Last week, a large conference was held by members of the Yerushalemim faction headed by Councilman Itay Gutler and architect Yehuda Greenfeld, with the residents on the subject.
“The residents demand to know which of them are included in the agreement between the church and the entrepreneurs, and who are not, what the agreement includes, and what would this mean for them,” Azaria related.
MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) told the committee: “In my view, the solution is simple – renew the lease and negotiate a new contract that will prevent, in less than 30 years, the public fight that is already taking place here. In order for that to be done, the government must wake up from its coma and start working now with the new buyers. The state has power that the apartment owners do not have — but as time passes the chances of renewing the lease agreements will decrease.”
A Jerusalem real estate broker who asked to remain anonymous told JewishPress.com, “A few months ago, I heard from my clients currently leasing Church Land that investors had signed an agreement with the Church, they understood it was to renew the lease at the end of the term. Prices were already dropping on those properties as the leasing periods are coming to a close. Now people will be afraid to buy those properties until they know what will happen next, the identity of these secret investors, and what are their intentions.”