At the top of the list is Tel Aviv with over 4,700 empty flats. Haifa surprisingly found its way into second place with more than 3,400 empty flats, followed by Jerusalem, Netanya and Beersheba.
The proportion of empty apartments in Jerusalem is 6% - a relatively high figure as compared with its counterparts in Israel. Other cities which recorded surprising figures are Petah Tikva (1,423), Ramat Gan (1,122), Holon (1,114) and Rishon Lezion (902).
These figures are especially evident on the backdrop of low housing starts in these cities.
For example, the number of housing starts in Haifa in 2010 was less than 400. In Tiberias, with 958 empty flats, the number of housing starts was less than 400 for that year. In Holon, where for the last three years demand has been exceeding supply, some 1,110 are standing unoccupied whereas only 550 are under construction.
In 2010, some 46,000 apartments were unoccupied whereas housing starts were only at some 39,000 in that year and 22,000 in the first half of 2011 – relatively high numbers as compared with previous years yet insufficient to cool-off high demand and soaring prices on the real estate market.
The figures are based on a report by the Israel Electric Corporation and include flats that consumed less than 10% of the average electricity consumption per flat during the discussed period.
The number of empty flats does not conform to reports published by Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz, who in the wake of the tent protests spoke of some 140,000 empty flats in Israel.
The difference between Steinitz's estimation and the new figures for the IEC warrants an explanation. Sources in the Ministry of Finance told Calcalist that Steinitz referred to housing units that were altered for commercial or business purposes.
"In order to restore the flats to their original purpose, the government should offer substantial tax benefits such as a complete waive of the appreciation tax, under the condition that this will be done within the next 18 months," Steinitz said at the press conference.
He added that "another step relates to municipal taxes – we would like to limit the exemption from municipal taxes to six months and raise taxes on unoccupied flats."
Sources in the Ministry of Finance explained Tuesday that the reasons no steps were taken since the press conference was the appointment of the Trajtenberg Committee, which is to include in its report recommendations for solutions for the housing crunch and that the issue of unoccupied flats is still on the Ministry's agenda.
Taxation or expropriation
The empty apartment issue was not on the Ministry of Finance's agenda prior to the housing crisis. As long as prices were stable, no one minded foreign residents buying up property which was left unoccupied for most of the year.
When prices began soaring and while rent was going up, the quest for available flats – mainly in the city centers – became frenzied and the spotlight was pointed at the empty flats which may be part of the solution.
But there still is the implementation to deal with. It may prove tricky to force a flat owner, who can afford to leave the flat unoccupied for months at a time, to put it up for rent for complete strangers.
Social organizations, on their part, have begun a bid to promote legislation on the matter.
"Since the protest began, suddenly all kinds of MKs are showing interest in the bill," says Melamed. "Suddenly we have someone to talk to, but the real fight will begin when the Knesset reconvenes".
Click here to read this report in Hebrew
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