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Israel is Working to Solve Housing Problems

August 6, 1971
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New immigrants in Israel “should be satisfied with the housing they’re given,” and should be willing to live in mobile homes 20 miles from urban areas and not insist on staying in the “overburdened” cities. That is the view of Jack D. Weiler, chairman of the Housing Committee of the reconstituted Jewish Agency. Weiler, of the Swig, Weiler and Arnow Management Company, Inc. in New York, has been national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal for two decades, and is vice chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee and secretary-treasurer of the Israel Bond Organization. Most pertinent to his comment on Israeli accommodations is his membership on the reconstituted Jewish Agency’s 10-man Housing Committee. Weiler’s belief in mobile homes is reflected in figures prepared by him for the JTA: In the United States two years ago, mobile homes–412,690 of them–accounted for 67 percent of all new single-family homes selling for under $25,000; for 79 percent under $20,000 and for 94 percent under $15,000. “The only way to cut the price of conventionally built homes and apartments,” Weiler says, “is to break with tradition.” His argument is buttressed by a slogan preserved on a paperweight on his desk: “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome.”

Slums are a fact of Israeli life, Weiler points out, and 40 percent of the country’s slums are in Tel Aviv. That is why Israel’s Black Panthers “have a definite case” and why it is unfair for new immigrants to insist on living in the cities, Weiler says. Being 20 miles from a big city is not so terrible, he continues, considering that bus services can be arranged; he himself travels that distance into mid-Manhattan. And by setting up housekeeping in Israeli suburbia, Weiler says, the residents will be helping the government meet its housing problem. That problem is, as is known, considerable. As Weiler puts it, “Providing for adequate housing is a first basic step in defusing the dynamite in the slum areas.” And the bill for this “desperately needed” housing? “Hundreds of millions of dollars” over the next few years. Raising that sum will be the task of the Jewish Agency’s Housing Committee, composed of 10 major contributors to the UJA. All are “very anxious to help,” and for no personal gain, says Weiler.


But the issue of the holding open of new apartments for immigrants while young married couples are desperate for lodgings has been exaggerated, as it is very limited in scope, Weiler asserts. Nevertheless, he admits, half of the 20,000 new married couples each year are “in deep trouble” and require rental housing; 15,000 families live in temporary barracks (“asbestonim”); costs have doubled in 10 years; 14 percent of Israeli families live in slums; of those 400,000 families, 200,000 live two or more persons per room, 56,000 live three or more per room and in some cases there are up to 12 per room, which he calls “criminal.” Furthermore, he notes, “thousands”–though “a very small percentage”–leave Israel each year because of “hardships” there, and there are 100,000 ex-Israelis in the U.S. But Weiler stresses that “Israel is no different from other countries” in this respect, pointing out that in New York City there is an immediate need for 800,000 new units.

As for the Israeli government’s aid in this matter, Weiler says “they’re doing a fantastic job with the limited means they have at their command,” and speaks of chaperoning Housing Minister Zeev Sharef across the U.S. last week to inspect mobile homes on location. (To show Sharef how the American use of such structures is applicable to Israel, Weiler and his colleagues took him to Phoenix, where it was 105 degrees. “My God–Beershebal” cried the Minister.) But while Israel has “accomplished miracles” in meeting its housing problem, as with a five-year, $71.4 million slum-clearing program, “miracles are not enough.” Weiler insists the answer is aluminum-and-wood mobile homes, measuring 12 by 60 feet, containing two bedrooms, two bathrooms, air conditioning and complete furnishings, and now being manufactured in the U.S. at a rate of one per hour. Delivery to a site and placement takes part of a day. As soon as Israelis say the word, similar plants can be set up in their country. Skilled labor will not be a problem, because the homes are put together by machine. Each unit would cost an Israeli $6-7,000. Hopefully, Weiler reflects, the emerging generation in the Jewish State will realize the advantages of such housing. Right now, however, “the Israelis are very funny people–change is difficult.”

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