Few takers for Olympics facelifts as high costs prove prohibitive despite municipal subsidies

Athenians have not been flocking to take part in a plan to smarten up the building facades for the Olympic Games announced two and a half months ago by Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou and Mayor Dora Bakoyianni. Although 1,000 or more buildings are eligible for inclusion in the program, the ministry has received less than 100 applications. Obviously, homeowners are deterred by the 50-65 percent of the cost of refurbishment that is to fall on their own shoulders. At the time the plan was announced, this newspaper said its implementation depended on the good will of the building owners. Almost three months later, very little of this good will has been displayed. According to the ministry’s relevant department, the main reasons for the tepid response are: – The high percentage of the cost to be borne by owners and the fact that, for reasons of transparency and good administration, the state subsidy is to be paid only after work is complete. The municipality’s initiative to mediate with banks so that owners can get «fast and cheap loans» for refurbishment does not appear to have helped much. – Multiple ownership. Most of these buildings are not small and have a correspondingly large number of apartment owners. Any action requires a general meeting and unanimous agreement, always difficult in Greece, and even more so in the middle of summer when many people are away. – The special requirements of the program. The conditions regarding the removal of illegal advertising hoardings, moving air-conditioning units away from facades and the replacement of television aerials with one central one have made it more difficult for a consensus on the part of all apartment owners in a building; in addition, many of the apartments are used for businesses. Yet neither the ministry leadership nor the municipality are willing to give up their fight to add color to Athens. Within the next few days, a campaign will begin in order to try and attract more interest. Ministry officials rule out any increase in the State’s contribution and continue to put their faith in «Greek pride.» What is included Included in the subsidized renovations are: – roof repair; – painting and repair of outside facade, windows and doors; – on listed buildings, repair of plaster and cornices; – removal of air-conditioning units and television aerials; – demolition of illegal advertising hoardings, a condition for payment of the subsidy; – replacement of individual aerials with one central aerial; – planting of trees and shrubs in front of buildings. For each of these tasks, the State will pay 35 percent of the cost, and 50 percent for listed buildings. It will also pay half the cost of compulsory removals, such as the replacement of aerials, removing air conditioners and satellite dishes, or removing advertising billboards. As for procedures, a simple application from the co-owners with accompanying photographs of the building should be submitted to the ministry, whose officials say a reply will be sent within 10 days. Already half of all the applications received have been approved. Owners then have to submit a design scheme from an engineer, to be paid for by the owners, or else obtained cost-free from the Athens municipality consortium. After this is approved, work has to be completed within 5.5 months (and before June 30, 2004). The subsidy is to be paid within 30 days after work is completed. A total of 15 million euros has been made available for the project.

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