Old building consolidation in the capital is an issue facing owners and the local administration
Real estate in Bucharest, seriously affected by the communist nationalisation, the post-December restitutions to former owners or heirs, but especially by neglect, not only renders the city rather desolate, but also poses safety risks. Many of the heritage buildings, unconsolidated and unrestored, are deteriorating before our very eyes, and some risk a complete collapse in the event of a major earthquake. These are tall and voluminous buildings, some erected in the second half of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, which have not benefited from any repair or consolidation. In recent years, however, there has been some maintenance and consolidation work financed both by the local administration and some owners, but specialists, civil society and residents say it's not enough. The reasons are many, as Ștefan Bâlici told us:
"I believe we are still trapped in that scenario in which the status of historical monument is automatically associated with something negative. If we have a monument, we must have a problem. As long as we do not have effective and well distributed tools to fix things in this area, the heritage will continue to be an issue. We will keep looking at these building degrading or being pulled down. Obviously, this status of historical monument, or part of a historical monument - and we shouldn't forget that the entire downtown Bucharest is on the list of historical monuments - comes with certain restrictions. This means that certain authorizations are required, the costs are higher and so on and so forth. They cannot be demolished and there are also restrictions regarding the works that can be done on them. This translates into a certain authorization chain, higher costs, etc. The balance should be ensured through owners' support programs or by mere funding.
In other cities, like Timisoara and Oradea, where heritage buildings have been largely restored and refurbished in the past years, solutions have been found at administrative level. It's true that the issues are more complex in Bucharest, because the real estate is larger and covering a bigger area. Moreover, we don't really know how many buildings would just collapse should an earthquake occur, according to Radu Vacareanu, a professor with the Civil Engineering University in Bucharest:
"At one point we did a quick estimate of the consolidation efforts and we got to somewhere in between 13 and 14 billion Euro. If we add the amount needed to ensure energy efficiency, the amount would be 27 billion. Even if Santa Claus came and gave us 27 billion, we still wouldn't be able to implement these projects, because we do not have enough capacity. Are construction companies capable of implementing projects of this scale? Obviously not! So, what we need is to prioritize, and for that we need to know how big the problem is in Bucharest. I probed a little bit into the seismic danger in the capital. And here, the problem is twofold. First of all, the threat to life, which means that people's lives must be protected, and then damage control.
Given the situation, what has the Bucharest municipality done so far? Edmond Niculusca, a representative of the institution responsible for building consolidation told us:
"This is a rather new institution. When I took office eight months ago, I was surprised to find that there were no structural engineers among the 90 employees of the institution, and that says a lot about how things stand. It's true that there are no funding programs. But the problem is not really there. The mayor's office has major financial problems, but the Consolidation Administration doesn't. The municipal restoration program will focus on the entire historical real estate, located in built-up protected areas or in protected areas of monuments or classified compounds. It includes reimbursable 25-year financing with a real estate guarantee. Based on certain criteria, people will apply to this financing program, a program that can accompany you as an owner or as an association of owners in the whole designing process and consolidation-restoration works, but also in matters related to permits or authorizations that are very complicated. The percentage of co-financing from the mayor's office is between 50% and 75%. It is the first financing program on historical monuments in Bucharest."
As regards owners' attitude, it depends on their type and interests. In the past, there have been cases of heritage buildings left derelict on purpose, in order to lose their status as historical monuments and to be demolished for land use. There are also owners who, for various reasons, are reluctant when they hear about consolidation works. But, according to Edmond Niculușcă, in all these cases the main responsibility lies with the authorities:
There are associations that do not want consolidation. So, the works drag on, the project expires because they cannot find an agreement. We, as the authority, have according to the law the obligation to draw up a report recording the fact that the owners take responsibility and the authority could not intervene to reduce the seismic risk to the respective building. Indeed, there are cases in which the owners do not want to, but to generalize and say that consolidation does not happen because people do not want consolidation is false. People have refused because the authorities have not been transparent. It hasn't been clear how much it would cost, what people must pay, why the costs are so high and especially hot long it takes. "
Currently, there are 349 buildings on the official list of buildings in Bucharest in the seismic risk category I, but civic associations and construction experts believe that, in reality, the number is higher, because the buildings have not been properly assessed. (MI)