J'lem Fears Haredi Win in Housing Tender Will Turn Kiryat Yovel ultra-Orthodox

A group of ultra-Orthodox buyers is expected to win the tender issued by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for 64 apartments in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, municipal officials said yesterday.

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox families have moved to the largely secular neighborhood in recent years, and the secular residents fear an ultra-Orthodox take over if the university's apartments are also purchased by ultra-Orthodox families.

At the last moment, the university yesterday unexpectedly raised the minimum bidding sum for the tender to NIS 35 million - almost 550,000 for each apartment. Both secular and ultra-Orthodox groups yesterday called for reducing the minimum sum.

Seven groups, six of them apparently ultra-Orthodox, competed for the purchase of the two large apartment buildings, which the university had used as student dormitories. The secular group was represented by the non-profit Ruah Hadasha (new spirit) organization, headed by city councillor Yakir Segev.

Both ultra-Orthodox and secular municipal officials yesterday said one of the ultra-Orthodox groups will probably win the tender, inter alia because the secular group promised purchasers to renovate the building. This would increase each family's expenses. The ultra-Orthodox groups made no such promise, enabling them to offer lower purchase prices.

In addition, the price offered by Ruach Hadasha, leaked to the ultra-Orthodox groups, enabling them to raise their bids.

Elisheva Mazia, Ruach Hadasha director, said that "we tried to keep it quiet but we were quite open with people who registered."

Segev said he did not know of any leak from his group's bid, but was troubled by the way the tender was being handled. The university refused his request to give its alumni - who make up the majority of his group - priority, he said.

Hebrew University's decision to consider nothing but the sum offered by the purchasers is infuriating secular people in the city.

Professor Dan Mandler of the Hebrew University, a resident of Kiryat Yovel and a leader of the secular campaign, yesterday blasted the university. "It will be very painful for me if the university's image is tainted because of a few hundreds of thousands of shekels. It will be a black day for the university and Jerusalem if the ultra-Orthodox win," he said.

Motti Kreuser, an attorney representing one of the ultra-Orthodox groups vying for the tender, said he was considering asking the court to delay the tender procedure.

"If the university had a minimum price, they should have said so from the beginning," he said.

"We must submit a new offer by Sunday noon," said Mazia. The change in the tender was very significant," he said.

The secular purchasers fear that some of the group's couples will withdraw their agreement following the price hike, reducing their chances of winning the tender even further.

The university refused to comment as "the tender is underway."