JERUSALEM — If all goes as planned, the aging 1960s-era apartment building where Yael Rockoff lives in Jerusalem with her husband and two young sons will be nearly demolished and rebuilt to current construction standards. Rockoff and the other five households will all receive bigger apartments in the revamped building, gaining at least one additional room and a balcony. And the massive project will cost them nothing.
Under a unique nationwide urban renewal plan, known by its Hebrew acronym Tama 38, developers in Israel foot the bill for reinforcing buildings like Rockoff’s against earthquakes and adding protective rooms to use during missile and chemical weapon attacks. They also often include perks such as balconies and elevators. In return, the developers can add more apartments on top of the buildings and sell those to cover their costs and make a profit.
“It’s pretty amazing,” says Rockoff, adding that the developer will also cover the costs of her family renting another home while the work is being done. Instead of six apartments, her bigger, revamped building will have up to 18. “And I will have a new apartment in a building that is not crumbling.”
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But municipalities across Israel have raised concerns about the growing number of Tama 38 projects, saying they lead to increased population density without any requirements for increased infrastructure – such as parks, schools and parking spaces – and mainly benefit current homeowners rather than whole neighborhoods. The federal government seems to have received the message. In early July, it announced tentative plans to cancel the program, drawing a mix of backlash and praise.
Although Tama 38 has been around since 2005, the pace of such projects has picked up in recent years as real estate prices continue to climb. In 2018, the government approved plans to add 13,133 new apartment units in these schemes, up from 843 new apartment units approved in 2010, according to Israel’s office for urban renewal. The program, which leaves developers and citizens to negotiate most of the terms, is unique to Israel, says Nava Kainer-Persov, an architecture and urban planning researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
Tama 38 is being carried out mainly in cities and neighborhoods with high property values, where developers can realize the highest profits on the new apartments they add on and sell, Kainer-Persov says. It’s not as active in many of the country’s poorer and more earthquake-prone areas or in peripheral regions within closer range of possible missiles from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
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The increase in Tama 38 projects, and a similar program called Evacuate and Build, is especially noticeable in Jerusalem, a city of about 874,000 with few high-rises and little new construction until recently. Now more than 20,000 new apartments are planned under these programs.
The projects are key to adding desperately needed housing in the city, some municipal officials say.
“We’re limited in space, so these projects are the right social and urban solution for Jerusalem,” says Amit Poni-Kronish, head of urban renewal initiatives for the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation, a municipal company. He says expansion of Jerusalem is limited due to the surrounding hilly topography and international political pressure to refrain from new building on land that peace plans have earmarked for a possible Palestinian state.
But Jerusalem has also put some caps on Tama 38, limiting developers to adding only one and a half floors in many neighborhoods so that infrastructure such as parking, schools and public parks won’t become overwhelmed, Poni-Kronish says. The move was a response to a common complaint about the program: that it increases population density without taking into account the accompanied needs for more parking, green spaces, schools and infrastructure like sewage and drainage systems. Ramat Gan, a city bordering Tel Aviv, was so concerned about insufficient infrastructure that it banned the program in May.
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Poni-Kronish says Jerusalem prefers Evacuate and Build projects because, unlike Tama 38, they require rezoning approval from the municipality. “That lets the municipality make demands, like that developers also pay for or build more schools, roads or synagogues, in return for getting the permits,” he says. “This way we can get benefits for the public.”
Critics of both programs argue they sometimes force people living on low or fixed incomes out of their homes. Even though apartment owners get a larger and more valuable apartment for free, the new and expanded buildings that result from Tama 38 and Evacuate and Build projects often require significantly larger condo fees for maintenance, and property taxes are also higher on the enlarged apartments, Poni-Kronish says.
“These are all challenges, and we need to be creative and find ways to improve things,” he says. “We don’t want to exclude people and drive them out.”
Following concerns over Tama 38, the head of the national government office that oversees urban planning and development announced it is considering ending the program in 2020, citing inadequate guarantees of infrastructure and public space in areas where buildings are expanding.
“The Planning Administration’s position is that it is preferable to promote more comprehensive urban renewal projects that respond to the needs of the general public and contribute to the improvement of the welfare,” Dalit Zilber, director of the National Planning Administration, said in a statement. “And granting of a specific permit for a single lot or building is in contrast with this.”
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But for many people living in small apartments, often worth nearly $1 million in the central neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, participating in Tama 38 or Evacuate and Build is a dream come true – as long as the programs last.
“It’s a real opportunity for us,” says Rockoff, whose apartment, even before the planned upgrade, has more than doubled in value since she bought it about 20 years ago. “But I’m also sad that it’s only those who are already well-off who are benefiting.”
Sara Toth Stub, Contributor
Sara Toth Stub is a journalist based in Jerusalem. She spent a decade writing for The Wall … Read more
Tags: Israel, Middle East, Jerusalem, urban planning, infrastructure, population, housing, government, world, world news