Israeli Gov’t Seeks Reinforced Room in Every Home

Interministerial committee proposes $10 billion, 10-year project as national goal

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel is weighing a massive building program that would guarantee that within 10 years every home in the country has a room capable of withstanding earthquakes and missiles, at a total estimated cost of 35 billion shekels ($10.25 billion), TheMarker has learned.

The program, whose details are still being worked out, would put most of the financial burden on homeowners, but the state would also allocate billions of shekels for public shelters and aid to low-income families. Enforcement would be strict.

The plan was unveiled by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan in May, just before the Home Front Defense Ministry he also headed was dismantled. It was drafted by an interministerial team that sought to balance the costs and its urgency — Israel has come under rocket attacks four times in the past eight years, with more than 1,000 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip in Operation Protective Edge to date, and is in a region prone to earthquakes.

A compromise plan, the details of which have not been finalized due to disagreements among committee members, would mandate minimal protection against rockets. Erdan defended this minimalist approach.

“The enemy of good is better,” he said. “At the moment we have 600,000 homes in Israel with no protection at all, and nothing is being done to change that. We could continue to wait for National Master Plan 38 [an urban renewal program] to work or for the natural replacement of older buildings with new ones, but that will take 50 years.”

The minimalist approach supported by the committee would require strengthening one room of every home with reinforced concrete, as well as replacing doors and windows to improve sealing. These changes, the team estimated, would cost between 50,000 shekels and 85,000 shekels per household and take several months to complete. Reinforcing the stairwells of apartment buildings with concrete would cost an estimated 20,000 shekels to 30,000 shekels per family and take up to two years.

The measures would not offer protection against nonconventional weapons, and the additional weight could actually be detrimental in the event of an earthquake, the committee admitted.

The team proposed financial incentives as well as subsidies, amounting to between 6 billion shekels and 10 billion shekels for low-income families. The total cost to the government would come to 10.3 billion shekels, depending on the extent of subsidies, with the remaining 24.3 billion shekels coming from homeowners. The deadline for meeting the new rules would be five years in high-threat areas and 10 years elsewhere.

Sanctions for noncompliance would include the placement of a warning notice in the property deed that would block the sale of the home, the posting of warnings on the exterior of the buildings and taking legal measures to force occupants to contribute to the reinforcement of their apartment buildings.

The program’s principles were presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few months earlier, arousing great interest in relevant governmental agencies. The team included representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministries of finance, defense, home front defense, interior and housing and construction, as well as from the National Security Council and the Home Front Command. The team reached some general conclusions but the team was sharply divided on the details.

Surprisingly, the Justice Ministry has supported the proposal, despite its apparent infringement on property rights. The ministry found that in many countries earthquake proofing is compulsory, with both financial incentives and harsh sanctions used to enforce the standards.

But the Home Front Command of the Israel Defense Forces objected to the committee’s proposal, saying they are insufficient from a security standpoint. The Home Front Command wants a reinforced room in every home wherever possible that would protect against nonconventional weapons and earthquakes. Nevertheless, the interministerial team adopted the minimalist plan.

Another obstacle to the ambitious plan came from the Finance Ministry, which said it does not have the approximately 10 billion shekels the program calls for, nor can it offer state guarantees on loans by private individuals because the mandated ceiling on such guarantees has already been reached. Instead, the treasury prefers urban renewal projects to encourage homeowners and contractors to upgrade buildings, combined with efforts to reduce the time needed to obtain building permits and the percentage of tenants who must agree to changes in a building to 51%, from 60%.