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Housing protesters demand ‘national emergency’ declaration ahead of election

Organizers seek support from across political spectrum to deliver change in the rental and housing market

Israelis protest against soaring housing prices and the cost of living, in Tel Aviv, on July 2, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis protest against soaring housing prices and the cost of living, in Tel Aviv, on July 2, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Weeks after protesters filled Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, and central cities saw the return of tent protests, organizers of the Housing Protests 2022 movement have set out a list of demands. These come as Israelis prepare to vote in their fifth national elections since 2019 with worries about the high cost of living at the forefront.

Organizers emphasize that they want their movement to be apolitical, aiming to get as many lawmakers as possible to lend support to an agenda of reining in an overheated housing market they see as out of control. They are a group of impassioned individuals from across the country who have come together via Facebook determined to act, but are still ty to work out how to make an impact.

Thousands of Israeli marched in Tel Aviv against the soaring cost of living. Israeli all over Israel attended protests against the living costs on July 30, 2011. Photo by Gili Yaarir/ Flash90.

The campaign is still far from achieving the mobilization seen at social justice protests in 2011, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets. In the intervening years, social media has taken off. The organizers face a major challenge to convert Facebook “likes” into feet on the streets, and they recognize they need to recruit teenagers who understand apps like TikTok and Instagram instinctively if they are to reach out to a broad audience.

But the role of social media also means a less streamlined campaign, with other individuals and small groups delivering stunts designed specifically for the social media audience in an attempt to make their point — as was the case last week with the image of bloodied bodies hung from a bridge, which achieved hundreds of almost universally supportive comments.

Bodies and banners protest the cost of housing and living (Taken by housing activists and shared via Facebook)

The organizer group has condemned this sort of activism. It says that it has consulted with financial, legal, and real estate experts to draw up a full list of demands, which it shared with The Times of Israel.

The top priority is for the housing situation to be declared a “national emergency,” organizers said.

Lawmakers could then push for the release of more state-controlled land for residential development to increase supply and for the introduction of long-term leases with rental price regulations.

Israelis protest against the soaring housing prices in Tel Aviv and cost of living, on July 2, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The group wants to see a “fair rental price list,” with appropriate regional variations, to manage the levels of rent increase in the market.

This sort of government intervention has, in recent years, become more common across a number of developed countries. And although housing prices overall have risen exponentially in recent years, currently running at a 15.4% increase in the past 12 months, much of the pressure and pain is being felt in the rental market. About 30% of Israelis are housed in an unregulated rental market where prices for contract renewals are rising by 30-50%.

The organizers believe strongly that the rental market needs rebalancing to give greater rights and stability to tenants, and — more controversially — that income levels should factor into the market. This would entirely cut across the free market that Israel, along with most countries, has to date maintained in terms of the property market.

They also want to see the establishment of a government rental registrar to supervise and enforce regulations across the rental market, including a national fair rental price list and increased enforcement of existing legislation against landlords who break the law.

Israelis protest against the soaring housing prices in Tel Aviv and the cost of living, on July 2, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The group also proposes significant support for first-time buyers, and deterrents to residential real estate investors. As finance minister, Avigdor Liberman pushed the purchase tax rate on investment buys back up to 8% late last year, and worked with Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin to increase the pipeline of new homes.

The outgoing government set out plans to release more state land for housing to increase the rate of new housing coming onto the market, particularly for first-time buyers, and to try to develop housing for long-term rentals.

The protestors want to see these policies continued and expanded, along with growth in the provision of affordable housing.

Back in November, Lieberman promised to look at limiting the availability of apartments for short-term rentals like on Airbnb. The idea was not followed through, but the protest group calls for the reduction of Airbnb apartments in areas of housing demand, as well as deterrents on buying property for investment purposes through the tax and mortgage systems.

The organizers also call for taxation and heavy fines for owners of vacant apartments, changes to the construction index to reduce the costs of buying a newly built apartment, and a streamlined process for acquiring building permits which is seen as a major delaying factor in the housing market.

The group says that it intends to keep the issue on the national agenda through continuous organized public pressure on key decision markets.

The next public demonstrations are planned for July 18, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem.

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