An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.
Jerusalem’s rich and colorful folklore includes several interesting tales about the capital’s haunted houses and buildings. The Clal building on Jaffa street with its corpse in the foundations; the House of Death on Ben Maimon Street; The Health Ministry Building in Machane Yehuda. These are but a few of a list of properties where the ghosts of Jerusalem’s bleary past sojourn.
Jerusalem also has around 10,000 apartments, bought as investment properties by overseas buyers. Some of these are rented out, some are used as short-term rentals to supplement the shortage of hotel rooms. Some are used by their owners several times a year and lie empty for the rest of it.
The Mayor of Jerusalem, in an uncharacteristic populist act, is about to double city taxes on these properties. He has declared that “The addition of thousands of ghost apartments to the market will dramatically increase the supply of apartments available for rent by young people, and will lower rent prices in the city.”
Mr Mayor, I have news for you. Not one of the apartments which you name as “ghost” apartments will be rented to four students to share. Nor do the students want to rent these apartments. They can’t afford the city taxes on them let alone the rent.
This new decree may, however, backfire. These very same investors are also coming four times a year and spending more money in the City of Jerusalem than does the average Israeli spend all year round. They are the same investors who are backing the City’s largest developments and invest in the City’s hi-tech hubs. Because they see Jerusalem as a second home and one close to their hearts.
Few cities in the world belong to the prestigious club of cities where foreigners want to own second homes. New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong are members of this elite; so is Jerusalem. There may be side effects to the local market, but these should be solved by building affordable homes in perimeter neighborhoods and providing suitable transportation to make these neighborhoods attractive.
It is no secret that the main hurdles to swift and efficient planning lay in the haunted corridors of The City Halls. If Safra Square would pay double Arnona for every unused or ineffectively used cubicle, how much would be raised towards affordable housing?