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Are Israel’s Buildings Prepared for Earthquakes?

In the aftermath of the tragic October 23rd earthquake that hit western Turkey killing over 600 people, injuring over 4,000 and destroying over 6,000 homes  – a mere 650 miles from Israel –  it’s an appropriate time to take a look at Israel’s efforts to protect its citizens from this potential catastrophe. 

Though not as earthquake-prone as the Far East or the western United States, Israel is positioned in an active seismic region on the Syrian-African fault and has experienced devastating earthquakes, the most recent fatal one occurring in 1927 when 300 people died and over 1,000 buildings were destroyed.

 Damage from Turkey earthquake - October 2011

In 1980, the Israeli government instituted architectural and construction standards to ensure that new buildings can properly withstand an earthquake. However, more than 50,000 buildings that were built prior to 1980 were not designed to survive a strong earthquake, thus putting many Israeli residents at risk.

Most apartment owners cannot afford to pay for the costly infrastructure work to protect their buildings from earthquakes. In addition, the government lacks the necessary funds to finance this major renewal project. As maintaining the status quo is untenable, what can be done?

Thankfully, in 2005 the Ministry of the Interior approved Tama 38 (or Plan 38) which created financial incentives to encourage the private sector to bankroll the cost of strengthening older buildings against earthquakes. The Government offered increased “building rights,” or rights to expand buildings beyond previous zoning allocations, for all buildings that become reinforced. The program’s implied goal is that the apartment owners will transfer these expansion rights to a construction company or contractor in return for upgrading their building. The apartment owners will receive a refurbished building – and sometimes an expansion of their apartment – without having to outlay any of their own money. The contractor, in turn, will cover his expenses plus make a profit by building and selling apartments on up to two floors that are added to the original building.

 Damage from Haiti earthquake - 2010

The plan is a win-win-win situation: (1) The owners can potentially receive at no cost (or sometimes at a discounted cost) a reinforced building against earthquakes; a renovated façade, upgraded infrastructure, lobby and stairwells, and an elevator (required for the new upper floors); all of which is estimated to increase the property’s value by at least 15%; (2) the construction company will profit by building and selling new apartments utilizing the expansion rights; and (3) the Government will protect its citizenry from potential future misfortune.

In large population centers such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where real estate prices are high, Tama 38 is a brilliant plan to reinforce older buildings because contractors are happy to participate in this profit-generating program. However, the government will need to offer additional financial incentives to encourage contractor participation in suburban areas where real estate housing prices are lower and, in turn, the construction companies’ profit opportunities are limited.

“My Israel Home” is a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To read previous articles, please visit his blog at www.myisraelhome.com. You may contact Gedaliah Borvick at gborvick@myisraelhome.com. 

2011-11-13 18:44:49



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