For many in costly Tel Aviv, White City living means going into the red

A woman shops at a street market in the center of Israel's Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on December 1, 2021. - A cost of living study by the Economist Intelligencer Unit has named Tel AViv as the most expensive city in the world. (Photo: AFP)

In the newly crowned world’s most expensive city, some denizens say they still can’t imagine going anywhere else, even as prices for housing and other goods swiftly outstrip wages.

Israeli musician Shir Meir lives in a Tel Aviv hostel room with three friends, sharing a kitchen and bathroom with others as they struggle to get by in the world’s most expensive city.

“We got to a point of despair” with housing prices, the 22-year-old said. “There’s no normal apartment for young people who are starting their lives in this city.”

Meir is among nearly half a million residents of the coastal metropolis who are dealing with skyrocketing living costs.

Israel’s cultural and economic capital is now more expensive than Paris, Singapore, Zurich, Hong Kong and New York, according to an authoritative ranking compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

It climbed the list partly due to the strength of the national currency, the shekel, against the dollar, as well as increases in prices for transportation and groceries.

People are pictured in the center of Israel’s Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on December 1, 2021. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Sitting on a bench on a central Tel Aviv shopping street lined with boutiques and gleaming renovated apartments, Janine Vosburgh said she now avoided luxuries like restaurants and cafes.

“We live in overdraft,” the 70-year-old said, pausing as a passer-by begged her for money.

Strong shekel

Vosburgh, who runs the Israel Multiple Sclerosis Society, and said some patients could not afford their drugs.

But the former Manhattan resident told AFP she could not feel at home in any other Israeli city.

Protesters for LGBT rights march on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon freeway, July 22, 2018 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Tel Aviv’s ideas and the freedom and the consideration for everybody regardless of age, gender, religious affiliation… it suits my way of thinking,” she said.

High cost of living has been a persistent issue in Tel Aviv.

In 2011, a “tent revolution” saw young Israelis furious at sharp rises in rents erect shelters on the upmarket Rothschild Boulevard in the heart of the city.

A decade later, the tents are gone but the soaring prices have remained.

Israelis set up tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, to protest against the soaring housing prices in Israel and social inequalities, on October 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni / Flash90)

“The protest had a temporary effect,” said Asher Blass, former chief economist at the Bank of Israel.

Tel Aviv’s ranking this year is primarily due to the strong local currency, he said.

Last month, the shekel reached a 25-year high against the dollar.

Israelis at the art market on Nahalat Binyamin Street in Tel Aviv, on March 30, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As the cost of housing and other basics like groceries has increased, wage growth has been uneven.

“A lot more needs to be done in opening up competition for goods like agricultural produce” to bring down prices, Blass said.

Only one Tel Aviv

Rising costs are a windfall for some in Tel Aviv.

At Rothschild Real Estate, which caters mostly to foreigners and wealthy Israeli tech workers, co-owner Eyal Furmansky said high-end housing prices rose more than 10 percent in the past year.

“Wherever you put your chips, it’s a good bet,” he said.

Luxury apartment towers are seen in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Park Tzameret on August 24, 2015. (Miriam Alster / Flash90)

Furmansky said his clients were more worried about the strong shekel than the increased cost of daily goods.

“People from the UK, from the US, from Europe do feel it’s harder for them to buy,” he said.

There is “only one Tel Aviv and in this city there are very specific places people want to live,” he added.

A man rides an electric scooter in the streets of Tel Aviv on May 30, 2019 ( JACK GUEZ / AFP)

For others, the appeal of Tel Aviv and its dizzying prices is starting to wane.

At a central outdoor produce market, student Aimy Schefner said groceries were pricier than in her home city of Haifa.

The 26-year-old aspiring actress said she saw living in Tel Aviv as a temporary big-ticket expense, similar to “a trip abroad.”

“You know it’s for a while, it’s not for your whole life,” she said.

(Times of Israel).


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