Saturday, December 26

The crime of being poor as defined by the Tel Aviv municipality

Yafo Gimmel is located at the very southern end of Jaffa, almost Bat Yam. Nowhere close to any of the fancier locations much in request by the gentrifyers and real estate investors looking of yet another option to make a lot of quick money.

Long concrete blocks with many entrances, "shikunim" as we call them. No elevators, small box-like flats stacked one on top of the other. You always know what the neighbors are at, the walls are thin.

When Jaffa's lovely old buildings were demolished some 40-30 years ago, many of their Jewish inhabitants received public housing flats in the large estates of "Yafo Gimmel" and "Yafo Daled", thinking they had made the deal of their lifetime. No longer would they have to share the same kitchen and bathroom with several other families in Ajami's old crumbling mansions of pre-naqbe age. Instead they would have their own little kingdom with the unknown luxury of a private kitchen and shower. Very small, that's true, and not too well contructed, but it was their own, rented for a relatively low monthly fee from the public housing company.

Over time, those who did well moved out and new migrants from the ex-Soviet Union and very recently, Ethiopia, took their place. The public housing company sold them their flats for a thieving  very "reasonable"  price and all felt they, once more , had made a good deal; they had become home owners. 
Of course the tiny and by now quite old homes were (and are) heavily morgaged and the monthly payments weigh heavy on the population many of whom have become unemployed and dependent on ever shrinking social security payments or on minimum wages. Food isn't always secure. Medicine cannot always be bought when necessary. Very few children have all the school books they need, but at least their families own their own homes. And that gave many of the people living in the Yafo Gimmel's Saharon street a (false) sense of security.
The public housing company's maintenance standards had always been low (and that is an understatement) and the construction level of the buildings was less than shoddy to start with. And the poor homeowners pay all their money to meet with the morgage requirements, leaving very little for necessary home repairs.
Two years ago the municipality defined a large block in Saharon Street, with close to 100 flats devided over 10 entrances, as "dangerous" and the demanded the home owners carry out immediate extensive (and very expensive) repairwork to the crumbling structure.

In the past this sort of work would have been taken care of by the Neighborhood Renewal Project ("Shikum Shkunot" שיקום שכונות) and the inhabitants would have had to pay only part of the cost against a friendly loan certified by the project. Yet but the Neighborhood Renewal project was fazed out in Jaffa (well, officially it still exists, its total annual budget for all of Jaffa standing at 20.000 NIS for 2009 which is being used as a partial salary for some educational work in the center of Jaffa as far as i know) .
The inhabitants of the block did not carry out the necessary repairwork. They simply don't have the money to do so.
In addition, many of them simply don't speak the same language (Russian and Amharic are more popular here) and in any case it is difficult to organize such a large group of inhabitants (over 90 densely populated flats).

So the burocrats of the municipality thought they had a good solution. One that tends to work quite well in North Tel Aviv: a law suit. One that usually forces the refusenik home owner into compliance.
The Tel Aviv - Yafo municipality criminally sues every single adult inhabitant of the block!
"Criminal"? one wonders. Yes, not carrying out a repair order of this type is a criminal offence, as the criminally inclined homeowner endangers all those living in the building or passing near by. It might collapse if the repairs will not be carried out.

The option of criminally suing repair refusing home owners was made to force slum landlords into taking care of the buildings they own. That law was not made in order to abuse poor people who were tricked into building their homes from a public housing company that wanted to get rid of property on which they would have to spend much money. The real slum landlord is the public housing company (partially municipality owned) that made a lot of money selling the flats, instead of spending it in repairing those very same flats.
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