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Help when the rent is too damn high

Young residents of Tel Aviv have a new resource for navigating the city’s notoriously tough housing market

Debra writes for the JTA, and is a former features writer for The Times of Israel.

A thick haze hanging over Tel Aviv (photo credit: Times of Israel Staff)
A thick haze hanging over Tel Aviv (photo credit: Times of Israel Staff)

It’s no secret that Israel has a tough housing market, and nowhere is the squeeze felt more than in Tel Aviv, where nearly half of all residents choose to rent rather than buy.

For young people in the White City, however, the rental market is even more lopsided — while 26 percent of all Israelis live in rented apartments, 82 percent of Tel Avivians between 18 and 35 are signing leases rather than mortgages. Demand dwarfs supply, meaning landlords have the control and housing-hungry young people often settle for unsanitary or structurally unsound apartments, or sign confusing contracts they can’t fully understand.

In an attempt to offer renters a lifeline, Tel Aviv municipal workers at Mazeh 9, the city’s Young Adult Center, recently opened a housing center where renters can get advice and counseling on fair housing in the city.

Affordable housing in Israel is the purview of the federal government, not the city municipality. While Michael Vole, director of the city’s Young Adults unit, says that the Tel Aviv municipality has put a bill before the Knesset to push for more housing options within its city limits, in the meantime, the Housing Center at Mazeh 9 is a way for them to help residents who might be struggling.

“It’s a really big phenomenon that doesn’t get enough attention,” Vole said of the choking housing situation in Tel Aviv. “It’s not just about prices. What we’re trying to change is the quality of the apartments, the contracts, and everything that has to do with renters’ relationships with their landlords.”

Despite the massive social justice protests that swept through Tel Aviv in the summer in 2011, galvanizing disgruntled renters to camp out on the city’s boulevards and join regular Saturday night demonstrations that dragged on for months, little has changed for the average renter in the city. New skyscrapers with condos for the uber-rich continue to crop up on the skyline, but for young people, especially those in minimum- or low-wage jobs, they remain completely out of reach.

The center, in a bid to help English-speaking immigrants who are at an extra disadvantage when it comes to navigating the market, is offering all of its services in both English and Hebrew. Tel Aviv residents can get help surfing housing websites (many of which are in Hebrew) and for NIS 70 an hour, a cost highly subsidized by the city, they can consult with a lawyer to have their contracts translated prior to signing, or to get legal counsel on issues they might be having with their landlords.

“Your apartment is a huge part of your life,” Vole says. “It’s not just a product in a marketplace — stability in where you live is a very important thing.”

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