Wednesday, January 30, 2013

1968: Housing Projects in Jerusalem

Back in 1968 (and perhaps before and after, our file doesn't say), the management of the Ministry of Housing and Construction used to convene once a month or so to review policies and programs. The minister (Mordechai Bentov in 1968) participated, as did the general manager, David Tene, and lots of top officials. They didn't set national housing policy, but their reviews covered all the large projects they were running and they discussed their pace of progress or - often - how budgetary constraints were preventing them from reaching their goals. In general, the protocols of these meetings would delight urban planners who are also history buffs, or historians of urban development; economic historians interested in how Israel's government tried to control the housing market may also take joy in these files.

The rest of us - well, let's just say one can find more dramatic files in the archives. Yet before we shrug and move on to the next file, let's glance quickly at file ×’-4457/1 which contains the records of three such meetings, in May, June and August 1968.

On May 29, 1968, Bentov opened the meeting by talking about a recent cut of IL140,000,000 to the ministry's budget (the money was being transfered to the Ministry of Defense). There was some good news, however, such as an added IL26,000,000 for construction in East Jerusalem (p. 2). Tene then commented that Jerusalem was about the only area where the ministry's large projects were progressing quickly (p. 4); the government had decided that Jerusalem and Beer Sheva had the highest priority. Further on, one of the participants noted that since construction in Jerusalem had been slow in previous years, there would be a shortage of new apartments until the current projects would begin to come onto the market, in 1969-70 (p. 6). Bentov also noted that the Prime Minister had urged him to set up a few dozen shacks near Mount Scopus so that someone would start moving in already.

At the next meeting, on June 5, 1968 (exactly a year after the Six Day War), Bentov opened his review by noting that on the land which had been expropriated in East Jerusalem, the ministry intended to build 2,500 housing units--1,200 in the first stage and the rest in a second stage. The original intention had been to start with 400 private homes on what is now known as Givat Hamivtar, but now it seemed better to allocate plots for only 250 of them and to use the rest for apartment buildings. This then set off a lively discussion, as more than 1,200 families had already signed up for the project. There was also a plan to build cheaper apartments near Sanhedria for religious families. (Well, that certainly happened.) (p.9-10)

Much of the meeting of August 22, 1968, focused on the various construction projects in East Jerusalem - certainly more than any other single area. One of the construction companies was already working, another two were expected to start very soon. One problem they were going to encounter was a lack of professional construction workers; discussions with the ministry of Labor were already underway to employ a few hundred laborers from the West Bank, some of whom would need to be sent through training courses. (p.14-ff).

All the construction projects being discussed in Summer 1968 were in the north-east of town: Sanhedria, Givat Hamivtar, French Hill, and perhaps the area which would later be named Ramat Eshkol (PM Levi Eshkol died in 1969).

1 comment:

  1. Social housing was pretty expensive at the time, and heavily invested in by the government as well. It's a different time, a different track of thought. But still, it's kind of stunning to think how the planning here went, with all the forces and factors it was contending, and new territories for its setup and exploration.