By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
As real-estate prices in Brooklyn keep skyrocketing, families are forced to seek affordable housing elsewhere. Brooklyn is considered the nation’s “most unaffordable city.” In the good old days, housing (rent or mortgage) was supposed to consume 25% of the average family budget. In chassidishe neighborhoods of Boro Park and Williamsburg today, that number has risen to 75%. Some low-income families are paying 100% or more of their monthly income for housing, seeking outside subsidies for the other expenses such as food, clothing, tuition, etc. Plainly, such conditions are untenable.
Three new chassidishe community starts have recently been publicized.
The development of Bloomingburg in upstate New York, near Ellenville, is continually in the news for its ongoing challenges and successes. The chassidishe start in Bloomingburg has become viable and quite attractive. Slowly but surely, families are moving in, and the new development is beginning to fill. Home prices begin at an inviting $299,000, which includes a long list of elegant amenities, and a variety of financing structures are available.
The new Rockvale project, the chassidishe project in Lakewood, where an extensive Orthodox Jewish community infrastructure is solidly in place, is progressing. Spearheaded by Mordechai Forhand, 4,000-square-foot new homes designed for large Orthodox Jewish families are priced at $400,000, significantly less than ordinary condominiums in Williamsburg or Boro Park. The Rockvale projects also include new shopping areas, which represent income opportunities for the entrepreneurial.
A third entry into the world of new chassidishe communities is the Ya’azoru effort in the Greenville section of Jersey City, New Jersey. The Greenville district, sitting on the banks of the Hudson River directly across lower Manhattan’s financial district, is being heavily promoted to the public. Its proximity to Manhattan, especially to the Wall Street financial district, makes it prime real estate.
In spite of the geographic desirability, the housing stock is cheap. A most recent listing of homes available in Greenville has a 9-bedroom, 6-bathroom home for $549,000; an 8-bedroom, 3-bathroom home for $295,000; a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom home for $328,000; and a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home for $325,000, amongst many other similar offerings. Generally, travel time from Williamsburg to Greenville is less than half an hour.
Greenville makes up the southernmost section of Jersey City and has excellent public transportation. Greenville is where the Ya’azoru Project has established headquarters. Its offices have a staff that welcomes interested parties, takes them for tours through the neighborhood, and explores available homes. The office provides mortgage, FHA, and financing information, including bank loans for first-time homeowners. The available housing stock consists mostly of one- and two-family homes amidst low-rise apartment buildings. A number of contracts have already been signed.
In addition, attractive rentals are readily available. In order to build a strong chassidishe foundation for the Ya’azoru project, large rental apartments are being offered to families at a subsidized price of $500 a month for the first year. Several chassidishe philanthropists have joined with chassidishe real-estate investors to transform Greenville into a chassidishe community with ample affordable housing.
In March, a contract was signed for the purchase of a three-story building at 221 Martin Luther King Avenue in Jersey City to serve as the temporary shul. The building has ample living quarters for the shul’s rabbi and his family, plus a brand-new community mikveh. After the signing, open-house invitations were extended to chassidishe families in the tri-state area and beyond. Visitors were warmly received by many of Greenville’s longtime (non-Jewish) residents who strongly encouraged and welcomed rentals, purchase of homes, and establishment of new businesses.
Almost immediately, a completely outfitted beis midrash was created. An aronha’kodesh, bima, and shtenders were all in place. In addition, rows and rows of sefarim shelves lined the walls. At that time, a large shul in Williamsburg replaced all of its bookcases and the old ones were transported to the new shul in Greenville. The old bookcases give the new shul a lived-in appearance and feel. The new Greenville rav is Rabbi Menashe Mayer, Nitra rosh yeshiva in Chester, son of Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Mayer, zt’l (d. 1991), Nitra rosh yeshiva and author of Marsha Ha’aruch.
On motzaeiShabbos Vayeishev, December 5, a melaveh malkah was celebrated at Beis Medrash Zev Dov of Greenville. Participants included the many new residents of Greenville as well as founding philanthropists and real-estate developers. Rabbi Menashe Mayer was joined by prominent chassidishe rabbis. Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, Karlsburger Rav and preeminent chassidisheposek, and Rabbi Meir Tudross Silber, Yavoshna Rav in Williamsburg, enthusiastically graced the event with their presence.
Rabbi Ben Zion Feurwerker, menahel of the Beis Rochel girls’ school in Williamsburg, served as the evening’s chairman. Rabbi Feurwerker is a son-in-law of Rabbi Mayer, a Greenville resident, and a fervent fan of Greenville’s new chassidishe community. He praised the Ya’azoru Project, lauding its officers for their vision and the multi-phased benefits that are enjoyed by the new families that have joined and are now comfortably settled in Greenville. He further emphasized that Greenville is an already established city, with all of its amenities seamlessly available.
With the beginnings of Greenville’s chassidishe community now firmly established, the directors of the Ya’azoru Project will begin a campaign of outreach to every chassidishe kehillah with an invitation for them to establish satellite communities and institutions in the new chassidishe Greenville.
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.