WEDNESDAY, 26 JUNE 2013 13:58 LEA FREHSE, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER (AIC)
The municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo is planning large-scale housing projects on the last remaining underdeveloped lands of Jaffa. Potential relief for the metropolitan housing crisis – but who will benefit from these new apartments and what will happen to the area’s current residents?
Current home in the Nes Legoyim section of Jaffa (Photo: Yudit Ilany)
Israeli authorities promote modern day Jaffa as the charming and ancient background to modern, white Tel Aviv. But while Jaffa provides background scenery to Tel Aviv, scant attention is paid to what is happening behind the scenes of this area. Once the cultural and trade centre of historic Palestine, Jaffa today harbours severe socio-economic problems and discontent among its largely Arab-Palestinian and Mizrahi Jewish population.
While Jaffa’s historic seafront is booming with a hip, young crowd of Jewish Israelis moving in and opening businesses, many who have resided in Jaffa for decades are economically marginalised. Poor planning and social policy has done nothing to alleviate the growing housing crisis and rampant social deprivation of the area’s veteran residents. Jaffa’s residential east is very poor, home to migrants of all backgrounds, who live in overcrowded housing for which building permits could often not be obtained. There is a severe lack of affordably priced housing for Jaffa’s growing population, a situation exacerbated over the past decade by gentrification that was propelled by municipal land sales to private investors.
New housing projects are being planned for the only remaining underdeveloped tracts of land in all Jaffa. The Jaffa areas of Maccabbe Yafo, Nes Legoyim and perhaps the smaller Eizelman quarter may soon be home to an approximate 3,000 to 4,500 housing units on 360 to 500 dunams of land – high density building with several high-rise towers.
New apartment blocs are planned on lands already inhabited
While the designated lands are underdeveloped and in part deserted, some of the area is built up with makeshift homes, workshops and small repair shops. Several dozen families live here, in houses largely built without permits but tolerated by the authorities. Crime runs high and there is undeniable drug issue, but people found housing and work here when they had nowhere else to go. And while few of the businesses operate under license, they provide jobs for hundreds of people in the area.
Repair workshop in Jaffa (Photo: Yudit Ilany)
However, under the pretext that these homes and workspaces are unofficial, current residents and their futures are not taken into account in plans to develop the area’s new neighbourhoods. Thus, what Israeli authorities define as “development” of Jaffa actually threatens to destroy livelihoods and displace the existing local population.
Already, a construction freeze over the area – and its attendant high fines for any violation – prevents residents from repairing or extending their homes even if they could afford to. Land for the new neighbourhoods is owned in part by the municipality, the Israel Land Authority and private individuals.
Planning is under way – time to mobilise for amendments
The planning process for Maccabee Yafo and Nes LeGoyim stands at an intermediate stage, although existing draft plans have yet to be presented for official reading in the municipal council. Local activists, however, are alarmed and have already begun working for amending the plans to prevent displacement of local residents. Barbara Zur is a retired architect volunteering with Bimkom, a non-governmental organisation advocating for just planning policies. “The planned neighbourhoods are an important addition to housing in the area,” she says, “but for whom and at what price? Our main objection to the plans is what they do not include.”
Missing in the plans are space and a vision for the disempowered. Only 10 percent of the planned housing units are designated as “affordable housing,” a concept based on principles of public-private partnership to foster housing accessible to young professionals. The plans do not provide for state-managed public housing of any kind, which has been downscaled in Israel since the late 1980s. Meanwhile, no criteria have been defined in Israel for what constitutes “affordable housing” and who would be eligible. Discussions are under way, but have produced no social results to date.
Too little, too expensive
Draft plans suggest adapting “affordable housing” criteria to families in the sixth and seventh percentiles of the income scale, earning between 12,000 and 14,000 NIS a month – well above the average income in Israel. With regards to Jaffa, this is far more than most have. One proposal suggests making completion of military service a criteria for eligibility. This would prevent Palestinians from buying or renting such property. Coincidence? Many in Jaffa would doubt that.
“Inappropriate housing policy in Tel Aviv-Yafo does not result from a lack of resources. There is enough money here,” states Yudit Ilany, active in the Jaffa Popular Committee for Land Allocation and Housing Rights and coordinator for Darna, a grassroots organisation advancing this cause. “Lack of lower priced housing is the result of policy strategy that is outright pro-rich.”
The area of Jaffa intended for development (aerial photo: Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality)
In fact, while there is no official housing policy strategy for Jaffa, authorities have actively fostered bringing a financially strong population to Jaffa. Prestigious housing projects such as the Andromeda gated community just south of Jaffa’s harbour bear witness to policies that benefit investors rather than the local community. Those unable to afford rising rents are forced to move to other deprived neighbourhoods, cutting them off from familiar surroundings and social networks.
Tensions are rising in mixed Jaffa
In contrast to relatively homogenous Jewish Tel Aviv, Jaffa is a mixed city. The majority of Palestinian residents of Jaffa were displaced in 1948; those who remained were confined to Jaffa’s ghetto of Ajami. Since the 1950s, Jaffa became home to thousands of immigrants, mainly poor Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian workers from other areas of what had become Israel. Today, Jaffa’s Palestinian and Arab identity is actively suppressed by the authorities, which obliterate any reference to this recent past when promoting Jaffa as a tourist and investment destination.
Authorities officially deny advancing a discriminatory policy. In 1999, the municipality established a special committee, the Mishlama, to handle Jaffa’s local affairs and urban development. Mishalama manager Ami Katz calls Jaffa a “multicultural city”: “While there are tensions once in a while,” he explains, “the last couple of years were exceptionally quiet in his regard.” Reports from media and civil society, on the contrary, see tensions on the rise. In March, Haaretz reported racist, anti-Jewish graffiti sprayed on storefronts across Jaffa. In February, a Palestinian worker was injured by a group of Jewish Israeli youth, who cited racist motives for the attack.
Can Palestinian civil society resist?
In such a highly politicised environment, housing is a delicate issue. “The municipality plans hit all the poor, both Jewish and Arab,” relates Ilany, “but Jews have other places to go to. For Palestinians it is less possible to find alternative housing.”
Hisham Shabeita, resident of Jaffa and an attorney at Tel Aviv University’s Human Rights Clinic, speaks of a dilemma: “It is not constructive anger we see in Jaffa. It rarely translates into positive mobilisation. This is part of the weakness of Palestinian society in Israel: Civil society is impotent and there is little willingness to push for change.” While in more established parts of Jaffa such as Ajami, people have come together to resist gentrification and displacement in recent years, the neighbourhoods now earmarked for development have weaker community ties, making it easier for authorities to disregard their needs.
Ami Katz of Mishlama says the municipality was aware but had little power to control the markets: “Making policy is not the easiest thing to do and the ability of a city government to control prices is limited.”
Jaffa’s housing crisis as a result of privatisation, gentrification and the peace process
Yudit Ilany is of a different impression: “It was policy that led to Jaffa’s housing crisis, which was driven by three major factors: capitalist profit-seeking, gentrification and the peace process.” Neoliberal policy since the 1980s led to a lack of affordable apartments that consequently brought many young, creative Tel Avivians to Jaffa as they could no longer afford housing in Tel Aviv’s centre and were attracted to Jaffa’s “charm,” Ilany explains. The newcomers raised prices. And as the Oslo years carried not only the prospect for peace but also for Palestinian claims to their property confiscated by Israel in1948, the state was eager to sell land to private investors.
Home in the Maccabbee Yafo section of Jaffa (Photo: Yudit Ilany)
Plans for Maccabee Yafo and Nes LeGoyim will not be finalised until after Israel’s municipal elections in October. Time to mobilise the local public and work on suggestions for making housing development more social for Jaffa. Jaffa’s Popular Committee is working actively within the community. Their demands – affordable flats for current residents, alternative housing during construction, planning space for small industry – are sensible additions. The municipality will have to wake up to these needs at the grassroots level to implement sustainable growth.
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