Sukkot and the housing shortage

As the whole country is abuzz with the sound of sukkot being built, it’s a shame that the government doesn’t take a lesson from it all. And by “it’s a shame” I mean, it’s shameful. Why? Because the issue that kicked off this summer’s nationwide protest movement is the crushing cost of housing, and because sukkah building provides a clue to solving it.

Consider this: Building my family’s sukkah only takes an hour. Granted, it’s only 6 square meters. But to build a sukkah four times that size would only require another 30 minutes. With help, I could build a sukkah large enough to seat everyone in my apartment building in less time than it takes the pizza place to deliver a couple large pies.

How is this possible? Modular construction. The materials are light, strong, uniform and long-lasting. Construction is so simple that it requires no more than a rubber mallet and a step stool. Beyond sukkah building, though, modular construction is used in only a small percentage of Israeli housing and commercial construction.

Of course, building sturdy apartments is a much tougher matter than building sukkot. But Israeli construction companies make it tougher than it needs to be. Contractors may blame the slow work of municipal inspectors and other factors beyond their control, but the fact is that the contractors just aren’t very efficient.

Honestly, I’m not very good with a hammer — but I know what’s possible. I grew up in South Florida during the construction boom of the 1980s, when entire shopping malls were erected within a few months. Here, by contrast, the construction of small, uncomplicated buildings can drag on for years. It doesn’t take the producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, who manage to build enormous, ultra-modern homes in just a single week (the length of the Sukkot holiday!) to tell you how unnecessary that is. What’s worse is that this snail’s pace of construction costs every one of us — renters and homeowners alike — unfathomable sums.

Using modular construction and other modern, cost-saving techniques would reduce building costs by cutting down on materials, labor and clean-up — significant savings in time and money that would make the cost of housing much, much less of the burden that it is now.

The protest tents that captured the country’s attention all summer have come down, but the housing crunch is as strong as ever. As the government contemplates ways of lowering the cost of living, let’s hope they see the potential brilliance of the simple sukkah.

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