Quake-safety plan for older buildings

FOUR-YEAR SCHEDULE::The program includes speeding up the ‘fast-screening’ of buildings, and tax benefits, ‘floor space rewards‘ and credit guarantees for loans

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Feb 27, 2018 - Page 1

A program to comprehensively examine the earthquake resistance of old buildings, with the examination of all six-story buildings or higher built before 2000 to be completed in three years, and compulsory reinforcement or reconstruction of problem buildings, was announced by the Cabinet yesterday.

The announcement came a little more than two weeks after the Cabinet said it was mulling a compulsory “health checkup” of older buildings and the establishment of a third-party construction supervision system to improve building safety in the wake of the Feb. 6 earthquake that killed 17 people in Hualien.

The Cabinet is allocating a four-year, NT$6.07 billion (US$207.63 million) budget to cover “fast screening,” resistance analysis, reconstruction, reinforcement and financial aid for buildings built before 2000, Premier William Lai (賴清德) told a news conference.

The program is aimed at buildings constructed before Dec. 31, 1999, when a more stringent construction code was introduced following the 921 Earthquake.

There are about 36,300 such buildings, and 9,300 have been put through the “fast screening” process in which government agencies examine a building’s blueprints and other plans to determine if it is safe or needs reinforcement or reconstruction.

For the rest, the government plans to complete the “fast screening” of those buildings that are at least nine stories this year, and those that are between six and nine stories in three years.

The program will include large residential and commercial complexes such as Weiguan Jinlong (維冠金龍) in Tainan that collapsed in an earthquake on Feb. 6, 2016, and the Yun Men Tsui Ti (雲門翠堤) building that collapsed in the Hualien quake, Lai said.

A “fast screening” of Yun Men Tsui Ti conducted by the Hualien County Government found there were structural weaknesses with the building, but the quake occurred before any further structural assessment and reinforcement could be conducted, Deputy Minister of the Interior Hua Ching-chun (花敬群) said.

Tax benefits and “floor space rewards” will be offered to homeowners to reconstruct their homes.

For owners whose buildings are determined to be “aging and dangerous,” the government would offer a reward of 30 percent extra floor space, land tax exemption and credit guarantees for bank loans to cover owners’ reconstruction costs, officials said.

For buildings that do not fit the “aging and dangerous” criteria, but are structurally compromised, a maximum NT$5 million subsidy, land tax exemption and loan guarantees would be offered for each reconstruction project, they said.

For homeowners who want to reinforce their buildings, a subsidy of at least NT$250,000 would be offered for each project.

The Cabinet also plans to revise the Building Act (建築法) to allow the government to order the compulsory reconstruction or reinforcement of dangerous buildings, Yeh said.

“It was very difficult to enforce [the examination program], because [homeowners feared] a potential drop in properties prices. Now we are offering a variety of incentives to homeowners to reconstruct buildings. If homeowners still refuse to comply, the government will be able to order compulsory reconstruction,” Lai said.

“We cannot let [more buildings] collapse,” he added.

Additional reporting by staff writer