Advent of Tent Cities in Israel is Testament to Housing Shortage

Tent cities springing up all over Israel, including one near the Knesset, have become a highly visible testament to the government’s failure to anticipate the housing shortage created by the mass immigration of Soviet Jews.

As thousands of olim arrive each month an receive subsidies for housing, established Israeli primarily young couples, are being driven into the streets by soaring rents.

Rather than pay hundreds of dollars for re each month, they take advantage of the warm, dry weather and pitch their tents in any available location they can find.

So far, about 100 such tents have been set up around the country. The latest temporary tent colony sprang up last weekend in the town of Yehud, east of Tel Aviv.

Others have been set up recently in Holon, Rehovot, Carmiel, Rishon le-Zion and the Rose Garden opposite the Knesset in Jerusalem.

According to figures released by the Bank of Israel, the country’s central bank, about 13 percent of Israelis are homeless. That adds up to about 500,000 people, including 150,000 families. Avraham Shohat of Labor, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, charged in Tel Aviv that the government knew over a year ago that more than 100,000 immigrants would come here in 1990 and “had plenty of time to prepare itself” for the influx, but neglected to do so.

Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Sharon has been given “emergency powers” to deal with the housing and settlement of Soviet immigrants. He has proposed importing tens of thousands of prefabricated homes, a solution opposed by local builders and the construction workers union.

Sharon spent Sunday shuttling in his helicopter from one potential housing site to another.

Last Friday, he appeared before hundreds of angry homeless in Rishon le-Zion to explain his solutions. He promised that imports, more rentals and construction “in the long run will bring down housing costs.”

But most Israelis fear the housing crisis will get worse before it improves.

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