Women, home and security in Israel
It is a basic human right to feel that s/he has a roof over her head. But in Israel now it becomes less and less of a certainty. The wave of protest in 2011 in Israel brought to the public awareness the issue of housing. The politicians adopted this trend and the term used now is “affordable housing”. The question is – affordable housing for whom? The steps taken by current Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid focus on building new houses that are slightly cheaper, but the prices for them are still over million shekels. Those who can afford them are the proverbial “young couples”, that is would be young Jewish middle class professionals, heterosexual and married, usually with help with down-payment provided by their parents.
But what falls beyond the radar of this discourse, is people whose housing situation is much more grave, women in particular. Women have it harder, and the more marginalized they are – disability, ethnicity, country of origin, socioeconomic status, personal status, etc – the harder it is for them. For non-married women and single mothers, Palestinian women, women of low socioeconomic status, disable, immigrant, mizrahi the “take a mortgage, buy a house” concept is just not relevant.
The Palestinian population encounters discrimination regarding the housing issue. It includes house demolition, problems receiving house-building permits, fear of transfer, feeling uprooted from 48. The political situation has a direct affect on their lives. For example, women from West Bank and Gaza married to Israeli citizens, have no legal rights and no security.
I feel that I don’t belong, there is no security, at any moment they can take me out of my house and throw me out of the country, separate me from my children
The results of WSI show that 73.6 percent of the Palestinian women are afraid to lose their home sometime in their future. It means that most women live in some degree of stress from the idea that they will not have a home. There are many reasons for this fear. One of the central fears is the state violence due to the national discrimination, such as house demolition, and the fear to be transferred.
We received a letter from authorities that our house is illegal and that it is to be demolished. We live in constant fear – when the children hear the sound of a plane passing by, they think they came to destroy our house.
There is an additional gender angle here as well. Traditionally, the men in the Palestinian family own the property, women do not inherit family property. If a woman does not does not get married she can live in the family house, but will not be supported in buying her own place. It’s different for men, since the family does support them building their own house.
The results show differences between Jewish and Palestinian women
|Palestinian women||Jewish women||To whom does the home belong|
|28.7%||50.5%||To the woman or joint property with the partner|
|59.3%||5.4%||Husband or his family|
It is clear from the numbers that in case of Palestinian women, it is ten times more common, that woman’s husband or his family own the home that she lives in than in Jewish families. The problem arises if a woman is not happy with the relationship, wants to leave or divorce. Especially if the property is on husband family’s name, which is often the case, after divorce the woman remains without property, or right for compensation. Women are often out up with violence of their family members , or feel that it can erupt in the future, and the dependence on the male family members makes it much more difficult to take a stand against the violence. Not surprising therefore that 67.5% of Palestinian women are afraid of family violence.
I worked hard and it is mostly thanks to the money I earned we could afford to build a house on my husband’s family’s land. 9 years ago my husband became violent, and this violence continued, in front of our kids. But if I divorced him, I would have to leave with the children, because it’s his family land
Jewish women – the mortgage and privatization of the housing issue
In Israel the mortgage seems like a “natural” option. But as the results of the survey show, this solution is a source of extreme psychological pressure on women
|percentage||Whether paying mortgage or not|
|42.8||Not paying mortgage|
We checked whether the stress women experience in their lives is correlated with their housing situation. What came out is that paying a mortgage is highly correlated with increased stress level.
The level of stress women experience correlated with having a mortgage on the apartment
|Housing situation||Percent of women experiencing constant high stress|
|Own a home and do not pay mortgage||22.3|
|Own a home and pay mortgage||59.1|
|Don’t own a home||36.1|
What was meant to give security becomes a source of constant worry. Assuming that mortgage payments spread over about 20-25 years, that means that women spend this period in their lives in highly stressful situation
And now all our life is built around the mortgage. All our work, all our decisions – everything is connected to the mortgage. Every day and every night I think about it. Now my home is not a source of security, it is a black hole of mortgage. I live in fear of not being able to pay it. We took the mortgage for 25 years, so that’s how I am going to feel for 25 years.
Finding a housing solution is challenging for women in general, but for some women it is even more so. It is obvious that the most secure are the women that own a house but don’t pay mortgage.
The percentage of women who do pay mortgage varies according to women’s descent.
|Origin||Paying mortgage||Not paying mortgage|
|Ashkenazi women||48.6%||49.5 %|
|Mizrahi women||57.3 %||39.3 %|
|Russian-speaking women||80 %||10%|
In the case of Russian-speaking immigrants, down payment is also very much of an issue, since they have not accumulated capital and do not have relatives that can support them. And the situation is even more distressing for those who arrived to Israel in middle age and older.
I immigrated to Israel when I was 50 years old. Two years after that I bought the apartment. I was glad i had it, but the tension was very high. I was an immigrant single mother, so I could not put any down payment, and took the mortgage for 25 years. I was constantly worrying – what if I got ill, how could I afford to pay the mortgage? And i did not understand much about the percents etc., when i recently came to the bank after 13 years of paying, I realized that the sum i still have to pay more than i borrowed!.”
Owning a home seems for many women as the ultimate security. And indeed, our results show that having or not having a home has a very significant influence on women’s level of stress. But actually only few women really enjoy this dream, for many the issue is a constant source of worries and struggles.
The results of our survey show that most women don’t own a home – they either rent, pay mortgage, or live in a home that belongs to their husband or his family. Still other women can’t even aspire to ever live in their own home, usually the most marginalized ones, socially and economically.
Solutions and recommendations
The housing problem in Israel affects both men and women. But there is a specific gender angle. The state endorses the family solutions – with the male provider. Therefore women tend to become vulnerable. Women on their own often find themselves under constant pressure of economic survival. Women living with the family finding themselves dependent on the males of the family – husbands, fathers, etc.
The solutions that the state focuses on now are irrelevant for many women. Endorsing people to buy houses and take mortgages is basically privatization of the housing problem. There are other solutions which are not part of the public discussion, such as public housing, long term rent, rent control etc. In Israel there is no public housing to speak of, there is no policy of rent control. These practices are perceived suitable only for extremely needy and marginalized, and even for them it’s a struggle. While at the same time public housing is a common practice in OCED countries. In Holland there are 138 public house units for every 1000 citizens, the average in 17 OCED countries is 51.3 units per 1000 citizens. In Israel it’s just 7 apartments.
The inclusive policy needs to include public housing, controlled rent, long term rent. For Palestinian women, it is urgent to halt the demolition of the houses, policy of building permits, develop legal practices that protect women in case of divorce. The state needs to take responsibility and to come up with all-encompassing solutions for the housing problem