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Rising Fears of Housing Shortage for Soviet Immigrants

June 16, 1990

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel is fast running out of housing for Soviet Jews, and the country could face a severe shortage by year’s end.

Government officials say more than 43,000 Soviet Jews have arrived this year, and the influx has pushed up rents in some areas, fueling protests by young Israelis that they are being priced out of the housing market.

″If something isn’t done soon, we are going to have a social explosion,″ warned Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, Avraham Kehila.

The emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel has been running at record levels since Moscow relaxed exit policies in the spring of 1989, and the United States subsequently tightened its immigration rules.

Nearly 13,000 Soviets came to Israel in 1989. The 1990 total is expected to exceed 150,000, Israeli officials say.

Uri Shoshani, director of engineering and planning in the Housing Ministry, said Israel’s estimated 20,000 vacant rental units will be filled in four months.

Three months later, Israel will have exhausted it’s supply of ″alternate″ housing, such as holiday flats, army camps and off-season hotel rooms, he said.

He said the ministry has asked that 60,000 new units be built this year, or three times the rate of recent years.

But so far, ground has been broken for only 7,000 new homes, Shoshani said. ″We’re building as fast as we can but we’re worried that there just won’t be enough housing to go around,″ Shoshani said.

The shortage already is apparent in the modest-priced units that Soviet immigrant families can afford on government housing subsidies of $237 monthly.

A recent survey by the Hebrew daily Hadashot showed rental prices had risen significantly. In suburban Nazareth, monthly rents for two-bedroom units have risen from $80 to $200 in the past year, Hadashot said. In Rishon Lezion near Tel Aviv, rents have doubled to $600, and in Jerusalem they are up 150 percent to $450, the paper said.

The increase has come about because landlords have raised rents on the cheapest apartments to match the Soviets’ monthly subsidy. That drives up rents all down the line.

In Israel, the average monthly after-tax income for a family of four is $1,160. Many young Israelis say they cannot compete with Soviets for housing and they have begun forming protest groups to seek government help.

In Beersheva in the southern Negev desert, scores of university students, young couples and recently discharged soldiers staged a sit-down protest to demand affordable housing. They have formed a group called ″Young People Without Apartments″ to press their concerns.

Rafi Luzan, a 36-year-old factory worker, from Carmiel near Haifa, went on a hunger strike earlier this month after his rent was raised to $300 from $150. He was forced to move out of his flat with his wife and their son.

Luzan, who earns $650 a month, is encouraging people thrown out of their homes to live in tents outside Carmiel’s municipal building until their plight is resolved.

″Rents have doubled all over town, and working people and young couples don’t have the money to pay for it,″ Luzan told Israel radio.

Hana Koval, spokeswoman for the Carmiel government, warned of 0 ents and rent them at subsidized rates to Israelis. Town officials also have called for rent controls.