Israel's Quake-proofing Program Now Slated to End in 2022

The National Planning Council deemed the program, Tama 38, a failure and considered ending it next year

A Tama 38 project in Ashdod.
Pavel Tulchinsky

A program under which developers can add new units to older apartment buildings in exchange for making improvements to them will end on October 1, 2022. The National Planning and Building Council made the decision Tuesday after members were persuaded that the program did not achieve its main goal of reinforcing large numbers of apartment buildings against earthquakes, particularly in the economically disadvantaged communities along the Great Syrian-African Rift that are most prone to temblors. 

Figures submitted to the council indicated that projects under National Master Plan 38, commonly known by its Hebrew acronym, Tama 38, were virtually nonexistent in the most earthquake-prone parts of the country, mainly in eastern Israel, and that shoring up buildings in these areas is particularly urgent. The Housing and Construction Ministry and the Urban Renewal Authority had previously told TheMarker that 36,000 housing units in towns such as Tiberias, Safed, Beit She’an, Kiryat Shmona and Eilat needed urgent reinforcement.

The program was also criticized because increasing the occupancy of apartment buildings puts pressure on infrastructure in areas where the program is popular.

A building being renovated under Tama 38, Jerusalem, October 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The financial and tax incentives offered by the program proved effective only in a few places, mostly in the greater Tel Aviv area — where the earthquake risk is not most acute, but land and real estate prices are higher.

In the 14 years since it was launched, the plan became a way to increase Israel’s urban housing supply at a time of soaring demand and rising prices. It and other urban renewal programs accounted for about 15% of Israel’s housing starts last year. One provision of the program involves razing and replacing an existing building with a higher one.

Critics also argued that because the program renovated specific buildings rather than entire neighborhoods, it could even complicate broader urban renewal plans.

Instead, the national planning Council has opted for a new plan to encourage urban renewal that includes entire areas of a city and that would confer specific powers on local authorities. Local building committees will have the right under the plan to approve mixed-use construction that combines commercial and public spaces. There would also be authority to consolidate parcels of land and widen roads and public spaces.

Because of the time involved in developing and getting approval for urban renewal plans, the council has recommended that implementation be done in stages. Among legislation that will need to be passed is an amendment that would give local planning committees authority for construction to shore up buildings and to tear down and replace buildings.

The recommendations also call for streamlining approval procedures.

Ze’ev Bielski, who heads the National Planning and Building Council and the national housing administration, and who opposed efforts to end the quake-proofing program immediately, expressed satisfaction that it is being extended. It had earlier been proposed that it end in May of next year.

“The transition period will make it possible to pass legislation and make the necessary changes to create widescale urban renewal infrastructure for projects all over the country with an emphasis on outlying areas,” he said. 

For her part, the director general of the Israel Planning Administration, Dalit Zilber, who had led the effort to end the program, said it was ending because it “lost direction.” But Yehuda Katav, the vice president of the Israel Builders Association, said it was unrealistic to phase the program out in three years. 

“Just taking out a building permit takes three years. The new policy will return planning authority to local governments, and that’s a big mistake.

The authority needs to be in the hands of the [national] government, since we see how mayors frequently change urban policies,” he warned. “It’s no less important to carry out urban renewal in outlying areas, where Tama 38 hasn’t yet begun, but in these areas there’s a problem with low land values, so the state needs to make it economically feasible, in part through compensation, lowering taxes, giving developers land in exchange in the center of the country, etc.”