The initiative of Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope) to lower the necessary majority of residents in favor of raze-and-rebuild projects to 51%, making it possible to advance such projects with just a simple majority of residents, is extremely harmful. The initiative is based on a flawed assumption that opposition to raze-and-rebuild is not a legitimate stance and that the opposing homeowners are simply extortioners only interested in profiting unfairly.
It appears that Elkin, along with other ministers involved in this issue in recent years, in an attempt to remove obstacles to implementing raze-and-rebuild schemes, imagines just one type of homeowner who would oppose such a project – an extorting homeowner. Accordingly, the “magical solution” suggested is lowering the necessary majority. But the truth is that most opposing homeowners are not “greedy extortioners,” and real dialogue between these opposing homeowners and the project entrepreneur would be helpful and productive. To achieve this, it must be in the interest of both sides that negotiations be effective and respectful. Contrary to Elkin’s assumption, lowering the required majority extremely weakens the position of homeowners and diminishes the incentive of the project entrepreneur to negotiate with them.
Lowering the required majority to restrict extortion must be supported by data showing that “extortioners” are indeed a legitimate obstacle that justifies severely infringing upon the rights of 49% of homeowners in a given building. None would deny that the demolition of residential apartment buildings without the willing consent of the residents is a draconian measure. With all due respect to the limits on property rights of residents in a shared building, each homeowner holds the strongest claim: ownership – which is protected by law – and must be treated accordingly. The issue of extortionist homeowners is a fringe problem; most opposing homeowners have valid reasons for opposing raze-and-rebuild. In many cases, these claims can receive reasonable responses from the entrepreneurs of the state, and if the stigma of “extortionist” homeowners is removed, the dialogue can be professional and cordial.
In many encounters we’ve had throughout the country, we’ve met concerned residents and homeowners who have identified real problems in the content of the suggested project. In more than a few projects, valid concerns were raised regarding possible harm to all the residents of the new building: Extreme crowdedness, windows looking into other residents’ windows, a single entrance to three parking lots, expectations of congested foot traffic, kitchens without windows – and these are just a handful of examples. These residents requested excellent planning. Excellent planning is rare but not impossible, it simply demands effort from the entrepreneur. But, at the end of the day, a resident opposing these problems can bring improved terms for everyone. It’s important to listen to such residents, and there is no reason to punish them for this. Often, residents who are unfamiliar with the technical language are not able to recognize planning problems and are convinced to support the project by the inclusion of an additional extra few square meters to their apartment. However, when individual residents recognize the problems and want to address them, they’re immediately condemned as “objectors.”
The key pressure on the entrepreneurs to improve their projects is the possibility of opposition; this is what makes negotiation possible. One of the goals of raze-and-rebuild projects is that the residents receive quality planning (and not that they be forced to agree to poor planning because others consider them extortioners), while legislation that strengthens the power of the entrepreneur only reduces the ability to carry out negotiations for appropriate, quality planning. In an unequal system between the entrepreneur and the homeowners, the entrepreneur wields the power. Increasing threats against opposing residents and neutralizing the only advantage of the residents – negotiation from the strength of ownership – weakens the disadvantaged side even further. The initiative of Minister Elkin takes additional steps in the direction of strengthening the entrepreneurs at the expense of the residents, and it must be strongly opposed.