Be’er Sheva: The Capital of the Negev
One of the most often-asked questions that I receive is, “where can I find an apartment in Israel for under $250,000?” One good answer is Be’er Sheva, a/k/a Beersheba, which is the largest city in the south and is nicknamed the capital of the Negev.
The southern portion of Israel is called the Negev, most of which is a desert. The Negev accounts for over 50% of Israel’s land area; however only a small percentage of Israelis live there. With housing in the traditional population centers becoming more and more expensive, the government has put significant effort into building up the Negev. The Israel Defense Forces is moving its training bases out of central locations and relocating them to one huge site, called “Training City,” in the northern Negev. The Negev offers the army a rare and precious commodity: space to train. In fact, 70% of the Negev is used as training areas for the IDF. This is particularly important for the air force, as the Negev is the only area in Israel which offers pilots enough air space to train in fighter jets that fly at twice the speed of sound. Having the armed forces in the south will be a benefit for the region, as army people tend to be well-educated civic-minded citizens.
Be'er Sheva, located in the northern Negev, is mentioned numerous times throughout the bible. It is famous for being the city where Abraham and Isaac dug wells, and from where Jacob departed immediately before his famous dream about the ladder whose top reached heaven. Be’er Sheva has grown dramatically since its humble beginnings in 1948 when it was comprised of four transit camps. The city has expanded, thanks in great part to the influx of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s, and Russians and Ethiopians in the 1990s. Today, the city has a population of over 200,000 people, comprised of secular, dati leumi (national religious) and haredi citizens.
The city’s excellent institutions of higher education – primarily Ben-Gurion University and its prestigious medical school at the Soroka Medical Center, with close to 20,000 students, and the Shamoon College of Engineering with 4,500 students – have helped to reinvigorate the real estate market. Many people have bought apartments as investments to be used for student housing, and prices for these units over the past few years have doubled. This spike in housing prices can also be attributed to the city’s recently implemented express train line to Tel Aviv, which – in tandem with various tax incentive programs – has helped the city attract numerous high-tech and low-tech companies that previously would have shunned the idea of moving outside of the country’s traditional business markets.
Despite the run-up in real estate pricing, the cost of an apartment in Be’er Sheva is significantly less than half the price – and sometimes as little as a third of the price – of housing in Jerusalem. Stanley Fischer, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, summed it up well when he explained that "the Negev's main advantages are . . . a high quality of life at a reasonable price.” I am excited to see how the city will evolve in the coming decade.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home, a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.