WITH a soaring property market in Sydney and Melbourne, and interest rate hikes this year forecast to add around $50,000 to a typical home mortgage, observant Jewish families are struggling to afford a house located in traditionally Jewish areas of Australia’s two largest cities. But eyeing Melbourne’s outskirts is proving to be a solution for a growing number of Sydney and Melbourne Jewish homeowners.
Melbourne-born Eli Kantor works in procurement for a packaging company and his US-born wife Bracha is a teacher at Beth Rivkah Ladies College and a community volunteer. They live in a small terrace with their nine children in Melbourne’s St Kilda East, close to friends and Yeshivah shule. They have been trying to find the means to buy a larger property for years.
“It just seemed that every time we saved and saved a bit more, it was always out of our grasp,” Bracha told The AJN.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdowns became a way of life, the limitations of their living space became more obvious. Then on an Airbnb holiday at Point Cook near Geelong, they were surprised to discover the spacious house they were staying in was valued at only $650,000.
An idea hatched. If it’s unaffordable to live in your dream house in walking distance from a shule, why not build a shule in walking distance of your dream house – in an affordable, yet accessible new part of Melbourne?
The Kantors were aware of previous attempts by Orthodox Jews to set up satellite communities in Melbourne suburbs such as Pakenham, Melton and Altona. But for various reasons all of them ultimately failed to attract a core group of committed participants. Subdivision of large land parcels was a complicated procedure, and locations, such as Pakenham, on Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe resulted in long, traffic-snarled commutes to Caulfield and St Kilda, while homes in Keysborough, which was briefly considered as it is a bit closer in, were becoming too expensive.
In 2021, Eli and Bracha were considering relocating their family to Israel or the US to live affordably and comfortably. But a visit to the new suburb of Fraser Rise, built on redeveloped farmland in Melbourne’s outer north-west, near Taylor’s Lakes, changed things. They were surprised at the number of new housing developments. They did their research, using apps to track travel times on the M2 and CityLink for months, until they were sure it was a 40 minute commute to the “shtetl”. The CBD is half an hour’s drive. With the opening of the Westgate Tunnel, transport options will become greater.
A property risk specialist who was recommended to the Kantors did more research and proposed they speak to land sales companies. One of these recommended WestWood Walk, located in Fraser Rise. The estate promotes a family lifestyle, multiple feeder roads are under construction, and the crime rate is low. House-and-land packages start at $500,000 on a $15,000 deposit. Eli and Bracha presented their concept of an informal Jewish satellite community to WestWood and the response was positive.
Melton Council has indicated that zoning laws would permit the building of a synagogue and mikvah around which residential blocks can be purchased. There are plans for an eruv, a Jewish children’s day-care centre and a shuttle bus service to Jewish schools. Eli is confident local supermarkets will stock kosher foods if they have a market for them.
‘This is a chance for people to establish a community that they feel fully part of and can be pioneers in. ‘
Eli Kantor Coordinator, Melbourne western suburbs Jewish community venture.
Post-pandemic, “this is really a chance for people to re-emerge and to establish a community that they very much feel fully part of and can be pioneers in”, reflected Eli.
The Kantors reached out to like-minded community members – including Modern Orthodox and Chabad families – and so far have held six meetings, each drawing around 30 interested buyers. Several families have put down deposits and construction has begun on some of the Jewish-owned lots.
Importantly, Eli says the venture now has reached critical mass in terms of participants. The Kantor family hopes to move in at the end of this year.
Yosef Eichenblatt of Sydney, who has settled purchase of a block of land at WestWood Walk, weighed the lifestyle choice between a two-bedroom unit in Sydney and a six-bedroom house with a garden, a pool and a sauna in Melbourne’s west.
It’s a solid investment, said Eichenblatt, an investment and mortgage broker, as property prices in Melbourne’s north and west are rising by 15-to-30 per cent a year. “The Melbourne property market doubles in value every seven-to-10 years, so you can imagine what a townhouse in Caulfield and St Kilda, now selling for about $1.8 million to $2 million, will cost in the future.
“Meanwhile, for those wishing to rent, a single-storey home in Fraser Rise is currently around $400 [per week] and a double-storey home around $600,” he said.
A conversation with friend Alex Robinson introduced Eichenblatt to the Fraser Rise venture. Eichenblatt, a Los Angeles native who went to school in New York, said the project reminds him of earlier, older American developments, such as the Orthodox satellite community of Monsey, New York.
Eichenblatt has spoken to several families that are moving to Fraser Rise. He emphasised that WestWood Walk will not be a Jewish commune.
“There are at least three developments that people can buy in,” he said. “It’s not going to be like a ghetto where you go down a block of streets and every single house is Jewish. It’s going to be like any other Jewish neighbourhood, where some houses are Jewish and some aren’t, but in certain areas there will be more Jewish people.”
Robinson, a Sydney business owner with a career in e-commerce, and his wife Zahava, have bought their block in WestWood Walk and are engaging a builder.
He was attracted to the concept of buying vacant land because “knockdown-rebuilds” required buying and paying stamp duty for an existing dwelling just to tear it down. Additionally, some young families would be eligible for a first homeowner’s stamp duty waiver.
Most importantly, there is the opportunity to custom-design a family’s dream home with a builder of choice in a neighbourhood of attractively built homes nestled amongst greenery.
“One can build a house that suits traditional Jewish living, with additional space for a Pesach kitchen, for a succah, for a large backyard, and for a couple of guest bedrooms,” said Robinson.
“For three decades, the Australian property market has boomed and sky-high house prices have locked many people out of the market in the Orthodox local area. The financial benefits of joining this new community are vast, with the ability to own a house and land and break into the housing market,” he stated.
Said Robinson, “It’s exciting and it’s been a long time coming. And it’s substantially different to previous attempts, which were a lot of discussions but ultimately not enough action. This time, there’s a great deal of action.”