Kibbutzim lure members with concept of home ownership

jerusalem | In a twist on socialist values, two kibbutzim are in the process of registering their homes as private property, making them Israel’s first cooperatives to rent, sell or mortgage houses.

Members of Kibbutz Kadarim in the Lower Galilee and Kibbutz Gesher Haziv near Nahariya will register their homes with the Israel Land Administration, based on a recent resolution that allows for creating personal-lease agreements between kibbutz members and the ILA.

For the kibbutz movement, the changes were necessary to bring a large number of kibbutzim out of financial crisis and create a stable financial environment that will encourage future generations to continue living in their home communities.

In a country where 70 percent of the population own their own homes and private property is highly valued, kibbutz home ownership offers a kind of “socialist confidence,” quipped Avihu Carmel, a member of Kibbutz Kadarim.

At Kadarim, a kibbutz established in 1980 that now has 48 members, the concept of private home ownership was raised four years ago, when members wanted “to be like the rest of Israel, and own their own homes,” Carmel explained.

With its farming limited to mango and citrus orchards and a chicken coop, as well as a small factory that makes plastic piping for the do-it-yourself market, Kadarim had a fairly stable financial situation, but the members were concerned about their future financial security. Half the kibbutzniks work onsite, while the other half work outside, most as managers of nearby kibbutzim.

“It was brought up because people wanted what all Israelis have, a house that they can call their own,” said Hedi Ben-Amar, Kadarim’s kibbutz secretary (who is not a member of the kibbutz). “With the current kibbutz situation, nothing’s clear and they wanted something that would ensure that the movement would grow, rather than die.”

Of Israel’s 270 kibbutzim, only 90 are still operating under the traditional collective model, in which all property is collectively owned and the community provides for the members’ basic needs. Perhaps ironically, those are the successful ones, said Gavri Bar-Gil, secretary general of the United Kibbutz Movement.

“We’re in a renewal process, and what is dramatic is the move to personal financial security,” Bar-Gil said. “If a kibbutz couldn’t promise that, the younger generation wouldn’t remain. A kibbutz is a place with a high quality of life, but without financial security, people won’t live there. This change will make kibbutz living more desirable.”

At Kadarim, where the oldest child is 15, it remains to be seen whether demographics will become a problem.

But the kibbutz didn’t want to leave things to chance. By offering each member a piece of property, members will be able to rent, sell or refinance their property. The kibbutz won’t make money from the new system, as kibbutzim do not own the land on which they’re situated. But members will be able to hand their homes down to their children, take mortgages, and the kibbutz will be allowed to sell any available homes to newcomers, without requiring them to be members.

The kibbutz has first right of refusal on any property that is being sold.

The Kibbutz Association hired assessors to equalize the different-sized houses among the members, pricing houses based on number of years in the community and aiming to have each member receive roughly the same size house.

At Gesher Haziv, kibbutz manager Shai Grossman said he wasn’t ready to discuss the community’s pricing process. In Kadarim, most houses were priced at $70,000 to $80,000, said Carmel.

“It was an incredibly complicated process,” he said. “Partly because we were the first, but also because you have to use an architect, lawyers, the ILA. It gets complicated with all the internal agreements that have to be made.” In the end, however, the kibbutz members will not actually own the land on which their houses are situated; that property is still owned by the ILA.

“It’s really just an asset,” said Carmel. “But it’ll make our members feel like they actually own something.”