Urban renewal plans are underway at an unprecedented scale in Israel today. Currently, forty thousand housing units in Haifa are being planned, mostly in the more vulnerable neighborhoods of the city. An association of residents with the help of RHR and the municipality of Haifa’s west welfare department have pinpointed a number of problematic factors within the plans, and offered solutions with little to no budgetory impact [Hebrew] .
Residents and MKS meeting together on May 29 2016
Below is an overview of these problematic urban renewal factors as compiled by the team of residents and professional:
At the Macro level:
Upgrading a neighborhood from older buildings to newer ones is usually viewed as a blessing. However, such upgrades bring with them additional fees in the price of housing (city taxes and building maintanence payments) which often results in the pricing out of the poorer populations from their neighborhoods. This means that poorer populations will be pushed farther from their social surroundings and their places of work. If this process continues to occur, it leads to the creation of more and more urban spaces that are homogenous in terms of financial status. This leads to a socio-economic segregation within the areas. These types of changes are known around the world to create serious social issues, and conflict with current best practices and consensus in western nations regarding the creation a social diversity within neighborhoods as they are developed. Diversified apartment sizes along with other mechanisms can provide a solution to economic segregation without stopping the urban renewal plans.
At the micro level:
Urban renewal plans include residents moving apartments. These moves always are uncomfortable, but to certain populations such as the elderly, disabled, or those who are caring for a family member in such a situation, these changes can be far more harmful than simple discomfort – especially when there are alternative options.
Sometimes urban renewal includes up to three moves. 1. A move to replace housing when your original building is being destroyed and the new one is being built. 2. Moving into the new building. 3. Occasionally, resident discovers that they are unable to uphold the housing payments of the renewed neighborhood and are forced to move again, this time away from the neighborhood.
The third type of move is the most critical: As we stated, there are people who would have a very difficult time moving apartments. This holds true for the transition period and afterwards. We must remember that after the renewal, many of these people will on the one hand find it difficult to withstand the price rise but will also find it difficult to move, for example if they need to be close to certain services, family and\ or supportive friends.
For these people, according to the resident representative’s plan, solutions can be found by adding permits for extra housing units in the project, designed for rental, where part of the collected rent goes to the investor and part goes to subsidize any additional housing costs. This will not have impact on the state or the municipal budget.
Even the first two moves can be made into one. There should be an attempt to first complete the building of the new units, and then the moving of the residents, as opposed to moving first, and then building. The idea is to first build a new building on public space somewhere, and then move the residents to the new building. After this, the old building is destroyed and used as public space (community garden, community center etc). This is how you can reduce the number of moves needed, especially for the old, sick and disabled.
Lack of knowledge and assistance:
In city renewal plans the state is usually just a background figure. It is the investors, lawyers and housing contracters who try to sign the residents up with different deals including different conditions, all without due regulation. This privilege provided to the investors makes the residents vulnerable for exploitation- especially true for those with less financial means who are lacking capital and sometimes the needed knowledge and education to navigate the situation. Therefore the power imbalance between them and the real estate investors is quite pointed. Because of this, it is necessary to have urban renewal plans supported by the government and municipalities which will allow the residents to consult with experts in the fields of law and planning, as well as with social and community workers who can help residents organize and understand the precise issues needing special attention.
What has already been done:
The residents from western Haifa have been contacting the municipality and MKs for the last several months. The height of these attempts was on May 29th, 2016, in the Neve David community center, when the Knesset committee for urban renewal was hosted by activists from Haifa’s westernm neighbrohoods, who are assisted by RHR.
MK Eli Cohen together with MKs Orli Levy Abekasis, Yossi Yona, Chaim Yellin, Roi Folkman and entering coalition head David Bitton heard a professional review of the situation by activists of Neve David, Kiryat Eliyahu and Kiryat Eliezer regarding the socio-cultural barriers located in moving, then building projects, about potential problems in current urban renewal projects, and the available alternatives, some of which are not needing budgetary changes.
Haifa vice mayor Hedva Almog praised the professionalism of the representatives of the neighborhoods, and proclaimed that she is committed to cooperation with the representatives, and utilising the new knowledge gained into the process of urban renewals.