Greek Patriarchate's Jerusalem Land Plot Raises Concerns for Homeowners' Future

After decades of leasing land to the government, the Greek Patriarchate's sale to a private, foreign buyer may signal inflated prices ahead for current residents.

The Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem sold off a plot of land in Jerusalem, containing hundreds of residential units in dozens of buildings, to a foreign buyer.

The plot, consisting of dozens of dunams between the streets Shay Agnon, Hama'apilim and Mavo Ha'oleh in Jerusalem's Givat Oranim-Rasco neighborhood, was sold for tens of millions of shekels. Since the 1970s, that land has been leased to a company called Taasiyot Etz Lavod.

Now the homeowners there may find themselves in a quandary following the land sale.

The Greek Patriarchate holds multiple plots of land around Israel, particularly within Jerusalem. Over the years, it leased out this land to developers who built thousands of residences, which are currently occupied.

The initial lease agreements stated that once they expired in 1951, the rights to the land would return to the patriarchy. But shortly after the founding of the state, Israel's government orchestrated an additional 100-year lease between the patriarchy and the Jewish National Fund in an effort to save homeowners from dealing directly with the patriarchy as landlord.

Over the past several years, however, the patriarchy has not been renewing these contracts, choosing to sell off the land instead.

Two years ago, the patriarchy signed a NIS 80 million deal with a group of Jewish investors from Israel and abroad that included most of its rights to land within Jerusalem. The buyers included Jerusalem's Ben David family.

"In this case, the foreign company will eventually be responsible for renewing the leases vis-a-vis the homeowners," says land appraiser Koby Bier. "The concern is that since the transaction includes a foreign, private company, the homeowners could find themselves facing a demand to pay huge sums.

"The company could decide for instance that the leases are being set based on real estate market prices. Currently, average apartments in that neighborhood sell for NIS 2.3 million, and single-family homes sell for NIS 4.5 million. This has significant meaning, and it could harm people who have been living in the neighborhood for decades. All this creates complete uncertainty for local real estate, and is leaving homeowners panicked."

Eyal Warshavsky / BauBau