Thursday, January 29

Subdividing Apartments - Plague or Pestilence?

I am saddened and appalled after a walk around the south end of Tel Aviv.  My stations on this sad sojourn were the small real estate offices peppered through the older poorer neighborhoods south of Lev Tel Aviv.  A picture emerged that was by turns, hopeful, then frustrating, and, in the end, tragic and nearly intractable.  The good news is that the property values in these neighborhoods are rising.  The bad news is that this rise is fueled by subdivision of any and all legal shelter into warrens of tiny rooms for maximum rent. 

Behind any door in the areas near the old Central Bus Station, Shapira, and Neve Sha'anan, you will likely find a corridor with 3, 4, or 5 more steel doors.  Each of these new apartments, even if its only 15 square meters, will bring a market rate of 2000 to 2500 shekel per month.  

According to one real estate agent, the most common size of micro-apartment is around 18 to 20 square meters (about 160 square feet), but he also knew of smaller ones, down to about 9 square meters.  This is the size of a jail cell.

As with any tolerated illegal activity, this use of the built environment drives out all legitimate uses.  Its like growing corn when your neighbor is growing opium poppies.  Eventually, you will join him or sell the land at the inflated price.  Thus large areas of South Tel Aviv are undergoing a seemingly irreversible decline along a number of axes simultaneously.  At the same time these areas are getting more overcrowded, more rundown, and, most critically, more expensive.  

These areas are now unaffordable for their longtime demographic: families of modest means.  When families cannot move in to a neighborhood, the diversity declines and the level of services usually declines along with it.  Should we write off this whole area of town?

In my next post, I'll talk about some possible solutions.

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