The Big One is coming. And thousands of homes across the Bay Area aren’t ready for it.

If your house is among those that aren’t yet earthquake-safe, you may qualify for a new state program to help pay for seismic retrofits. Starting in late April, homeowners in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco can apply for grants to reinforce single-family homes with a vulnerable “soft story” on the ground floor.

The most common example is an older house with a garage below the main living area, said Janiele Maffei, chief mitigation officer for the California Earthquake Authority, the agency overseeing the program.

“You’ve taken out all the elements that resist earthquake forces — and that’s the walls,” she said.

Many soft-story houses can be reinforced with steel or wood, but homeowners often balk at the hefty price tag — which can range from $14,000 to $27,000, Maffei said. The new pilot program, using $5 million in federal funding, is set to provide at least 300 grants of up to $13,000 each. The funding will also cover administrative costs. Homeowners in Los Angeles and Pasadena can apply for the same pot of money.

Exactly how many single-family homes in the Bay Area and across California need soft-story upgrades is unclear. But a 2016 report by the Association of Bay Area Governments estimated 18,000 residential buildings of all types in the region have ground stories “that have a tendency to collapse when shaken hard enough.”

Maffei said the hope is to apply for more Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to expand the fledgling program to additional cities, including San Jose and others in the South Bay. As a model, she pointed to an ongoing state program to retrofit crawl spaces in older homes that’s helped nearly 20,000 households across the state.

To qualify for the pilot program, homeowners must live at the property, and the house must have been built prior to 2000, before building codes were updated.

Homeowners will be able to sign up on the earthquake authority’s website, and applicants will be chosen randomly. They can then choose a state-approved contractor to help secure the necessary permits and complete the retrofit.

More information can be found at

Locally, San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland have ordinances requiring soft-story upgrades for older wood-frame residential buildings with five or more units. But none require retrofits for single-family homes. San Jose is in the process of finalizing a soft-story ordinance …read more

Source:: The Mercury News


Ready for the Big One? Homeowners in these Bay Area cities can apply for money to prepare for earthquakes

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