Haifa’s Middle Class Is Finally Coming Down From the Mountain

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Looking up at Mt. Carmel from the Bahai Center.
Looking up at Mt. Carmel from the Bahai Center.Credit: Eyal Toueg

A mound of construction refuse left over from the excavation of the Carmel Tunnels greeted participants of an Israel Lands Authority contractors’ tour in January 2013, at a site at the foot of the Carmel Mountains. At the time, the site was called Haifa - the Western Approaches. The developed area of the city was mostly far away, but for the skeleton of a new municipal stadium.

More than a few participants wondered whether they were wasting their time. Everyone in Haifa knows that the residents of the top of Mt. Carmel are in no hurry to leave, and that the only reason for a downhill trip is to visit the Hadar Quarter, only about halfway down the mountain. These people aren’t known to like flatlands and even the contractors who ultimately submitted proposals to buy land at the Western Approaches site did so cautiously. The bids were strikingly low. The assumption was that the location would yield prices of an affordable 800,000 to 1 million shekels ($210,000 to $270,000) per home.

Three and a half years later, prices have soared by about 50%, and it is hard for anyone to remember the low expectations when the project was launched. Defying tradition, middle class Haifa residents jumped at the opportunity and were not put off when the prices began to climb. The buyers included local celebrities such as Itamar Chizik, CEO of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team, and former player turned commentator Eyal Berkovic. When the late Shimon Peres stepped down as Israel’s president, the Haifa Municipality decided to name the neighborhood after him, calling it Neot Peres.

Yaki Amsalem, CEO of Almog CDAI Limited, says he detected interest in the site the summer of 2013 even before sales got underway. The company had intended to offer only 100 of the 288 apartments it had built for advance sale, but within 10 days these units were all sold, and the entire inventory was sold in less than two months.

Neot Peres under construction.Credit: Eyal Toueg

Prices settling down

Real estate sources say things settled down more recently as prices hit the 1.3 million to 1.4 million shekel range for four-room apartments, and the starting price for five-room apartments climbed to 1.6 million shekels. About 80% of the homes in the neighborhood had been sold as of late August.

The initial target population was young couples buying a first home, but the neighborhood has also become a magnet for investors, who Amsalem says account for about a third of buyers, though about a third of these have ended up moving into the neighborhood.

Yossi Avrahami, who is building about 400 housing units in the neighborhood, says it has also become popular with families downsizing as their adult children leave home.

“Downsizers from the Carmel, including private home owners in Denya [an upscale neighborhood on the top of the Carmel], are selling their house to move closer to the sea,” he remarks. He sold 320 units as of late August.

“There was a real hunger for a big, new neighborhood in the city, and that explains the pace of sales there,” says Varda Libman, director of Haifa’s planning department. Libman says it has been decades since such a large number of homes went on the market in Haifa all at once.

“Most of the new neighborhoods in the city have been planned on privately owned land with a large number of owners, and we have had no control there over the pace of the work. It’s generally small contractors building a few units on such land. In that respect, the new neighborhood was big news for the city,” she says,

All told, Neot Peres will feature about 1,700 apartments in buildings ranging from seven to 17 stories high. The first residents took possession of the first 144 apartments, developed by CDAI Almog, in April and about 300 more units will have been occupied by around the end of this month. Shectmann & Company is developing another 200 units and the Ashtrom Group, 268 units, of which 142 are designated for long-term rentals.

“We instructed the Israel Lands Authority to market to as many as developers as possible, so there would be competition and construction would proceed quickly,” Libman says.

“We had had a bad experience with the Ramat Hanasi neighborhood, where the number of apartments is similar but the land was owned by one developer who built one at a time taking breaks in between. When there’s competition, the contractors rush forward and you can see it in the pace of progress of construction.”

Neot Peres is seen as a harbinger of a massive construction wave expected to change Haifa’s landscape from Freud Road in the northwest to the southern suburb of Tirat Hacarmel. The entire foot of Carmel slope is expected to be developed at an unprecedented scope. Some 14,000 housing units are planned.

More building planned

“There’s a plan to build 770 housing units on the slope of the mountain – adjoining Neot Peres from the east – and it has already been approved, and the land will be marketed to developers in the coming months,” says Libman.

“A more significant, larger plan, for the construction of another 4,400 housing units to the south of Neot Peres was submitted to the district planning and building committee, which will consider it for public comment in the coming months,” she adds.

In addition to being the first new neighborhood in Haifa in decades, the location of Neot Peres is more attractive than it seems at a glance. Although it’s a bit isolated, it is close to Matam, Haifa’s high-tech center, where 10,000 people work in research and development centers run by Intel, Elbit Systems, Google, Microsoft and Apple. Plans are now being made to expand the high-tech office park.

Also nearby are the Haifa Mall and the Castra shopping mall, a portion of which is expected to be converted into small hotel, city officials say. The huge Sammy Ofer municipal soccer stadium adjoins Neot Peres from the west.

Some worry that the stadium will bring noise, crowds and traffic to the area, but, Libman says, the municipality doesn’t foresee any particular problems. “We have created a buffer with a public area between the neighborhood and the stadium, where kindergartens and schools will be located, so there are several hundred meters separating the stadium from the closest homes.”

Traffic will be diverted

On days in which there are soccer games, spectator traffic will be diverted to a separate route, away from the neighborhood, she says.

From the standpoint of public transportation, the neighborhood is well-located. It is close to Route 2, which runs to Tel Aviv, and to Route 4, which provides easy access to the center of the country. There is also easy access to the Carmel Tunnels, which serve the metropolitan Haifa area.

In the future, the east of Neot Peres will be linked to the neighborhoods on the slopes of the Carmel Mountain and southward to the neighborhoods slated to extend toward Tirat Hacarmel. The neighborhood is also near the Hof Hacarmel bus station, one of the city’s largest, and a train station.

People buying homes in Neot Peres may have reason to be concerned about the lack of community institutions and public spaces at the moment. Although residents are already moving in, construction of schools and kindergartens is just in its initial stages. Basics like playgrounds and even good sidewalks are not in place. The place feels more like a construction site than a community. By the end of the year, however, about 500 apartments will be occupied, which should bring hundreds of children into the neighborhood.

In August the Haifa Municipality promised that six kindergartens would be opened in Neot Peres next year and an elementary school now under construction is scheduled to open in September 2018. Until they open, neighborhood children will be placed at nearby schools, the municipality says, with 95% of infrastructure work so far running ahead of the schedule. Sidewalks and open public areas are scheduled for completion by July 2017.

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