Owners of Jerusalem apartments that are empty most of the year will have to pay double the municipal tax unless they rent out their homes, the Jerusalem city council has decided.
The proposal, put forth by Mayor Nir Barkat and brought to a vote Thursday, must still be approved by the interior and finance ministries.
"The youth are the city's oxygen," Barkat said. "We are working all the time to attract young people and young families to the city. Putting thousands of 'ghost apartments' on the [rental] market will dramatically increase the supply of rental apartments for young people and will cause rental prices in the city to drop."
More than 10,000 apartments in the city are unoccupied for most of the year, the municipality says. Almost all the so-called ghost apartments have been bought by foreign owners who typically live in their Jerusalem homes for only a few weeks a year.
Critics of the move say owners who paid millions of shekels to buy property in Jerusalem are unlikely to be too concerned about paying a few thousand shekels more in municipal tax, known in Israel as arnona.
But municipal officials say that even if the owners don't rent out their apartments, the tax increase will still help because it will go toward getting more affordable housing on the market.
Many Jerusalem residents have come out against the vacant apartments, saying that because they limit the amount of available housing, they push up prices for what remains. And local merchants have reported decreased income in areas where many homes sit empty for much of the year.
The city has yet to define what constitutes a ghost apartment, saying it is waiting for the required ministry approval.
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