There may be as many as 140,000 “ghost apartments” – homes that are owned by Israelis or foreigners, but are unoccupied – according to numbers presented at a meeting of the Knesset State Committee. The figure was presented by Meirav Pasternak, the head of the statistics department of the Central Bureau of Statistics, and it came as a surprise to the Knesset members present at the meeting – not the least of whom was MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Camp), chairperson of the committee, who herself had just cited a statistic stating that there were just 40,000 such apartments in Israel.
“We are talking about a huge supply of apartments that already exist – there is no need to plan or build them,” said Yachimovich. “Freeing up these apartments, or even just a portion of them, would have a dramatic effect on solving the housing shortage, one of Israel’s greatest challenges,” by freeing up additional homes for rent.
“Ghost apartments” are generally bought by Israelis or foreign residents for investment purposes. While many people do rent out their apartments, many others do not, and in certain neighborhoods, especially in Yerushalayim, there are large numbers of empty apartments that are occupied only several times a year – when their owner comes to visit.
Speaking at the meeting was former MK Manuel Trachtenberg, who in 2011 was put in charge of a special government subcommittee charged with finding ways to lower the cost of living for Israelis. “Demand for new homes in Israel grows by some 50,000 housing units a year, so the large numbers of unoccupied apartments is a major issue for the country,” he said. “Empty apartments in a neighborhood impacts the lives of those who do live there, not always in a positive way. Many of the apartments in more expensive areas are owned by Jewish investors from abroad who want real estate in Israel. Do municipalities encourage this kind of investment?”
Trachtenberg has in the past recommended charging owners of empty apartments double the usual arnona (real-estate tax) in order to encourage them to rent out their properties.