The ministerial committee headed by Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who is minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, has approved a monthly grant of NIS 500 as rental subsidy for students who move to the Old City area of Be'er Sheva. The grant criteria look at the socioeconomic situation of the student and his/her family, academic excellence and social involvement during the academic year.
The committee will budget NIS 4.8 million a year for the project, funded by the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee and the Finance Ministry.
Shalom said: "In light of the security situation and the missile attacks to which Be'er Sheva has been subjected, we will continue to encourage and strengthen the city's residents and attract additional residents." He called the grant an "important and key decision" that will attract students. "Young men and women will bring new blood and constitute a significant economic motor that will lead to development and upgrading in the Old City and Be'er Sheva in general," Shalom said.
The Be'er Sheva municipality, for years, has been trying to rehabilitate the Old City by transforming it into a recreation and leisure zone.
On the grant, the city's mayor, Rubik Danilovich, said: "This is genuine good news for the development of the Old City as part of the vision of transforming it into a center of culture, art, recreation and leisure." Danilovich added: "Attracting many students to live in the Old City will constitute an engine for advancing and implementing the vision."
Be'er Sheva Old City operations director Shimon Boker welcomed Shalom's decision. "This is a very important decision that will encourage young people and students to come and revitalize the Old City in Be'er Sheva, which is in tremendous momentum," he said.
At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, too, the move was greeted with satisfaction: "We welcome every decision beneficial to the students in the Negev," said university spokesman Amir Rosenblatt.
In Jerusalem, however, where during the past six years the municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority have handed out thousands of shekels to students who moved to the downtown area, the grants will be stopped next year.
Every year about 1, 500 students received the stipend, which initially was NIS 6,000 and dropped to NIS 3,400 this past academic year. The stipend was paid to a student who proved he lived in the downtown area on one of the streets included on the list. Next year, the program will cease, says its initiators, as it has achieved its aims.
According to Eyal Hemo, deputy director of the Jerusalem Development Authority, "It is possible to see there has been a significant change both in the human makeup and in the businesses downtown. The aim has been achieved."
Critics of the plan said it has led to a rise in rental prices downtown, and the money paid to the students ultimately made its way into the hands of the landlords. Supporters of the plan do not deny rents have gone up but said this has stemmed from an increase in demand, which testified to the program's success.
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