Not everyone in Israel has to live in the most populated areas of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Jewish National Fund-USA’s Housing Development Fund is pushing more affordable housing in the North and South, said JNF-USA’s Chief Development Officer Rick Krosnick.
He stopped by to chat with the AJT about Israel housing projects as part of his visit with Atlanta JNF supporters and leaders.
JNF’s involvement in Israel traces its history back to its establishment in 1901, but today the organization has been investing in projects in the Negev and the Galilee. As economic challenges continue to grow in Israel, Israelis are finding fewer opportunities to locate affordable housing.
But JNF’s Housing Development helps bridge the gap by building infrastructure in Northern and Southern Israel and by encouraging Israelis to move into communities outside the center of Israel, stretching from Beer Sheva to the Galilee, to achieve a better quality of life at a lower cost.
So far, the $25 million revolving housing loan fund has constructed more than 830 housing sites in 13 communities, such as in the Arava and Pelech, and has cut down the time Israelis are able to get a home from five to seven years, to about two years.
Yet the initiative does not come without its challenges, said Krosnick, who also spoke at an Atlanta JNF real estate networking event. “One of the things we have discovered along the way is the complexity, bureaucratically and financially, for housing to happen in the North and the South.”
Unlike the United States, developers are typically not involved in single-family housing, Krosnick said. Moreover, it is hard to get people to move from the center of Israel to areas near the Gaza and Jordanian border because of dangers associated with living in Israel’s peripheries.
Similarly, a lack of capital has inhibited houses from being built in the past because private developers are not involved in the process and communities are unable to get bank loans. That said, Moshavim and Kibbutzim eager to expand housing are unable to do so unless they first build the infrastructure.
But that’s where JNF-USA’s HD fund comes in. The organization has partnered with a number of communities and municipalities to provide funding for roads, schools and hospitals. In Sapir, a community in Southern Israel, the community has built the Swimming Complex and Recreational Facility which local residents, 650 school children, athletes and major competitors will use as referenced in JNF’s flyer for the Arava. It takes a special kind of person and family to settle in those areas, but there is demand, Krosnick said.
Krosnick estimates that JNF-USA is on track to meet its goal of building 1,500 sites in the next year and intends to reach 2,500 sites in the next three years. “JNF is all about moving Israeli’s population to the North and to the South, and in the next decade we want to affect over half a million more Israelis living in the Negev and 300,000 more living in the North. And we will look to invest our dollars as well as our time and our energy in avenues that help us meet that goal,” Krosnick said during his visit.
The goal of the fund, Krosnik said, is to eventually have entrepreneurs invest in the communities so JNF can use its resources for other initiatives in Israel and more Jews will opt to move to Israel than to any other country.
“We live in a time where Jews can pretty much live wherever we choose around the world, which is a wonderful renaissance time for us to be Jews. On the other hand, when that is the case, Israel must be the place where people choose to live. So, we have to build the kind of Israel that is so wonderful, with the best infrastructure and the best quality of life, that people will say, ‘I have a better quality of life there than anywhere else,” Krosnick said.
Main Land Company partner Seth Bernstein is one of the many volunteers who sits on the fund’s Housing Task Force, which visits and reviews the different sites for new homes to be built. Bernstein has yet to visit the houses, but plans to join Krosnick in the fall for a tour that will span from the Lebanon border to Eilat.
“I like to think that American Jews could viably move to Israel. … But you can’t hear that $350,000 gets you a two-room apartment and leave Marietta, Georgia. You have to be a very committed person. But if the yard is a little smaller, the house is the same size and it’s still 25 miles from the city, then Israel can start competing with places such as the Great Britian, Australia, Canada or France,” Bernstein said.
“That’s really the game changer. … It’s looking at America in 1930 versus 1960 and to see 30 years like that happen from a real estate standpoint and millions of people who have a better quality of life they never dreamt of.”