Ariel Beery
Ariel Beery
Dedicated to solving problems facing humanity with sustainable and scalable solutions
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Israel’s fight against climate change needs urban public housing 

Think of the investment as a social benefit, leading the country to better productivity, reduced carbon emissions, and greater financial returns for all
Photo by Simple stripes on Unsplash
Photo by Simple stripes on Unsplash

By investing in public housing, Israel will achieve better productivity, reduced carbon emissions, and greater financial returns for all.

The real-estate market in Israel is blazing hot, with Israeli housing prices experiencing historically high growth rates that are outpacing even those of the world’s most promising economic engines. While this is good news for Israelis who are fortunate enough to have already entered the market, this rapid rise in housing prices will ultimately both negatively impact Israel’s economic growth in the long-run and increase our contribution to global warming.

We can avoid harming our national growth potential and further damaging the climate by investing in urban public housing. Public housing has unfairly been ideologically pigeonholed as a left-wing or even socialist idea. But thinking of public housing purely as a social benefit, rather than recognizing it as an investment in our national productivity, is a mistake. Instead, we should exploit the direct contribution of public housing to our economy and leverage its positive externalities to reduce harmful emissions.

Public housing has unfairly been ideologically pigeonholed as a left-wing or even socialist idea. But thinking of public housing purely as a social benefit, rather than recognizing it as an investment in our national productivity, is a mistake.

The mechanism is as familiar as it is universal: as cities become more expensive, only the wealthier members of society can afford to live in them. However, cities require people to work essential jobs, primarily in the service industry, to serve that wealthy elite. So those same people who were pushed out by sky-high rents are drawn back into those cities as day laborers: teachers, nurses, waiters, street cleaners.

The housing these essential workers can afford is often far from the city, leading to a fall in workforce participation in some cases, and a drop in productivity in others. Transportation costs go up, traffic jams increase, the market for used cars (which have lower gas mileage) grows, child welfare suffers. Carbon emissions rise. A negative feedback loop leads to further economic depression, lower productivity, and a poorer future for Israel.

It is no surprise that the two decades during which Israel reduced its investment in public housing were the same two decades with the fastest growth in income inequality and steepest drop in productivity in Israel’s history.

According to extensive research by a leading research and advocacy group in this space, the Adva Center, the expenditures that remain are low-return investments at best; relegated to the periphery where jobs are scarce, they require transportation to urban centers for jobs, harming our people and our planet, and degrading our productivity and economic growth, all due to an ideological commitment.

It is no surprise that the two decades during which Israel reduced its investment in public housing were the same two decades with the fastest growth in income inequality and steepest drop in productivity in Israel’s history

There is a way to fix this: we can invest in public housing. Given the magnitude of the challenge of the moment, only through high-density, sustainable urban development will Israel be able to provide for a growing population while also reducing its carbon footprint, and that development should focus on maintaining socioeconomic diversity in city centers.

Study after study has shown that when quality public housing provides a stable roof for a city’s more vulnerable populations in urban centers, a positive feedback cycle leads to significant economic gains: transportation costs go down, productivity rises, childcare welfare improves, education levels rise, and if the housing is built with community engagement and involvement in mind, social solidarity increases.  Maintaining socioeconomic diversity in urban centers — even more than simply “high density” construction policy — pays social, economic, and environmental dividends. We don’t need breakthrough climate technology to build world-class 15 minute cities that are hubs of innovation, and healthy for people as well as the planet — we just need some common sense, and the right strategic plan.

Still, a government investment in public housing could also introduce new technologies to green our cities and build out our power microgrids. It is no secret that commercial contractors narrowly comply with low-carbon regulations to maximize short term revenues, off-loading future costs onto the public through negative externalities. A robust investment in public housing could include model construction projects that showcase the benefits of using carbon neutral or negative materials, lowering the overall costs of those materials by triggering economies of scale. We already see the feasibility of such a model in the project to add solar panels to 1000 public roofs. Let’s build on that to create city-based microgrids, where rooftop and wall-hung solar panels can be coupled with basement batteries to generate and store power for the neighborhoods where the buildings stand.

We can generate better outcomes for our people, our planet, and our national economy by increasing our investment in public housing

As Israel starts to think seriously about how public investment can upgrade our economy to one that minimizes negative externalities and carbon emissions, we need to recognize that there are some solutions already here that we can invest in, and benefit from, today. Public housing is one of those climate and economy positive investments. We can generate better outcomes for our people, our planet, and our national economy by increasing our investment in public housing. As we discuss what Israel can do to combat the effects of climate change, we need to make sure public housing receives a larger portion of our investment.

About the Author
Dedicated to solving problems facing humanity with sustainable and scalable solutions, Ariel Beery co-founded and led 3 Israel-based social ventures over the past two decades: CoVelocity, MobileODT, and the PresenTense Group. His geopolitical writings - with deeper dives into the topics addressed in singular columns - can be found on his substack, A Lighthouse.
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