Tel Aviv — To Nitzan Horowitz, Tel Aviv-Jaffa embodies equality and openness — but only for those who can afford to live there.
In many ways, he says, his city is a beacon of tolerance. After all, a significant part of it — the exact figure will become clear only on election day, October 22 — is backing him in his mayoral bid, which could make him the first openly gay mayor in the Middle East.
But two years after outrage at the cost of housing in Tel Aviv sparked mass demonstration against the cost-of-living in Israel, rents in the country’s premier city are no cheaper. In Horowitz’s reading, this makes Tel Aviv a liberal environment that, increasingly, only the well-heeled can afford to enjoy. Buying or renting a flat in Tel Aviv has become “science fiction” for many Israelis, he complained.
Horowitz, a onetime journalist, is a candidate for the left-wing Meretz party, which he currently represents in the Knesset. As mayor, he claims, he can go a long way toward solving the problem during a single term in office, by using municipal powers to build large public housing projects.
“It’s rather easy, because we have a precedent,” he commented during an interview with the Forward, arguing that Israel’s history attests to the ability of authorities, rather than the private sector, to take the lead on housing.
He said: “It used to be called Zionism in this country. It used to help us absorb waves of immigrants coming from all over the world for many years, meaning that the authorities, whether the government or the city or other public authorities, used to build houses and apartments.”
Horowitz points his finger at the municipality for the spiraling house prices in Tel Aviv. There is enough public land to institute large public housing projects, he argued, for both rental and affordable purchase. “It is the main and basic duty of the local authority to allocate housing solutions to the public,” he said.
If Horowitz gets to execute his plans, he is likely to clash with right-wing groups. Discussing Jaffa, the stronghold of the local Arab population but increasingly home to gentrified predominantly Jewish housing projects, he said that he foresees some of the public housing for the locale designated as Arab-only. The legal rationalization for this — preference along ethnic lines is prohibited in almost all Israeli housing — would be addressed should the time come, he said, declining to discuss the subject further.
Horowitz is going up against a mayor so well established that many young Tel Avivians can remember no other. Ron Huldai, the candidate for One Tel Aviv, has been in office for 15 years and is credited with regenerating large parts of the city, eliminating the municipal deficit, attracting young residents to Tel Aviv and overhauling the educational system.
Huldai’s campaign manager, Danny Borowitz, told the Forward that he has “transformed a deteriorating city on the verge of bankruptcy into the nation’s center of high tech and innovation, art and culture, economic activity, Jewish renewal, tolerance and pluralism, night life and entertainment.”