An idea for Jerusalem's housing crunch

View of Central Jerusalem

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: This week is the Jewish holiday of Passover. Thousands of U.S. Jews who own vacation homes in Jerusalem have flocked to the city. When they leave to go back to the states, they'll leave behind empty apartments and some frustrated locals. Daniel Estrin reports.


Daniel Estrin: There aren't many places on earth where you can go out to your porch and enjoy a view that comes straight from the Bible. But Jerry Chester's apartment is one of those places.

Jerry Chester: You can sort of see in the dirty air, kind of vaguely, something past those antennas, and that's the mountains of Moab.

Moab was the Israelites' final camp site before reaching the Promised Land. Chester and his family split their time between their U.S. home and their Jerusalem apartment. For many American and European Jews, purchasing an additional home in Jerusalem isn't just a luxury. It's a spiritual dream come true. Benny Lovel sells real estate in central Jerusalem.

Benny Lovel: Jerusalem represents something very emotional for Jews all over the world.

Every fifth apartment in central Jerusalem is owned by someone from abroad. The thing is, most of them just come for Jewish holidays or during the summer. The rest of the year, their apartments stand empty. That's what a group of students found out during a recent protest.

Roy Folkman: We walked neighborhood after neighborhood in the middle of noon and shouting, "Is anyone home?" And shouting and shouting and shouting. No one came out, because no one lived there.

Roy Folkman is the head of the student union at Hebrew University. He and other students were protesting the tough real estate market here. Absentee homeowners drive up market prices and leave few downtown apartments available for students to rent. David Uziel is a graduate student majoring in urban planning.

David Uziel: They should be aware that if they are keeping their apartment empty, they are donating to the problem here in Jerusalem.

He and other students have come up with a business proposal: They want absentee homeowners to rent them their apartments and in exchange the students will manage the properties. Real estate brokers like Lovel have agreed to offer the proposal to their new foreign clients starting next month. Roy Folkman thinks it's a good start.

Folkman: You want a living city, you don't want a museum. And that's what they are making.

In Jerusalem, I'm Daniel Estrin for Marketplace.

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