Preventing Discrimination by Buying Groups

ACRI Attorney Gil Gan-Mor argues that buying groups must be regulated by the law, in The Marker

Published in The Marker, March 2, 2009

Buying groups are claiming a growing stake in land purchasing and residential building in the Israeli housing market.

Basically, a buying group is a positive consumer mechanism. What could be wrong with a group of people coming together to compete for a building plot and taking advantage of being a pre-organized group to cut the project’s costs and the eventual cost of the housing? Only that at the same time, a buying group can be a tool for illegal discrimination.

Over the last few years, we have witnessed the organization of homogeneous buying groups that accept only those who conform to certain criteria or pass acceptance committees. Sometimes, homogeneity is the declared objective of the group’s promoters who often openly promise that their screening system guarantees “quality neighbors.” Sometimes the organizers restrict members of the group in advance to certain professions so as to create elite, upper-class communities who close their gates to anyone different from them.

If the practice extended only to some luxury apartment tower or other it would be possible to think nothing of it. In any case, in such places price acts as a filter. Even if it’s a case of a private organization of several close friends, there is no reason to bar it. But recent moves by commercial developers in every sense, who want to establish large buying groups and occupy entire residential areas, are becoming a cause for concern.

A society in which closed communities are created in separate residential areas is a society in which division and social alienation prevail. It is a society in which children grow up in neighborhoods in which they learn that people of a certain type are unfit to live near them. In a society with closed residential communities, social gaps widen because these neighborhoods tend to control the best services in that area, leading to erosion and disintegration of the public systems that serve the entire public. Therefore, anyone for whom an egalitarian and tolerant society is important should be concerned.

There is no need to fight buying groups, since they have a positive side, but regulations must be instated to ensure that the buying group does not become a means of discrimination. When public land is involved, the rules appear to be in place: a public authority is prohibited from transferring land to a third party that uses it for discriminatory purposes. Yet, there must be assurances that a buying group intending to compete for public land will be open to the entire public and will not reject anyone who wants to join it.

Even when it is a case of private land, the organizer of a buying group that practices discrimination runs the risk of prosecution – but the law must be amended to specifically prohibit it. The law as it presently stands is that developers and private companies are prohibited from discriminating against anyone who wants to be employed by them, to receive health and education services, or to enter public places. The law must also prohibit discrimination against anyone who wants to live in a residential area or to join a buying group.

If we do not take the necessary steps now, we are liable to wake up one day to a reality in which entire residential neighborhoods surrounded by walls, reminiscent of other places, will be an integral part of the Israeli landscape.

Gil Gan-Mor is an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

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Categories: Housing Rights, Social and Economic Rights

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