Keeping our residents in their homes after the Big One

We all know that the coming major earthquake isn't a matter of "if," but rather "when."  This earthquake is likely to be significantly larger than Loma Prieta, and if we're not prepared it will have a devastating impact on San Francisco.  In addition to damaging our public infrastructure, it will displace many residents.  That mass-displacement, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, will have a lasting impact on our city.

One of the most important things we can do to avoid mass-displacement is to ensure that our building stock is seismically safe.  We need to maximize the public's ability to "shelter in place" by remaining in their homes.  To start us on the road of accomplishing that goal, I joined Mayor Lee and several of my colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation to require that certain soft-story buildings be retrofitted.  This legislation comes from the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety (CAPSS) Earthquake Safety Implementation Program, a thirty-year plan for improving earthquake safety and resilience in San Francisco. 

Under the legislation, potentially covered buildings - constructed before 1978, wood- frame, soft-story, three or more stories, and five or more residential units - will have one year to have an architect or engineer fill out a screening form to determine whether these buildings are required to retrofit or are exempt either because the building has already been retrofitted or is outside the scope of the law.

After this screening process, the timeline for applying for permits and completion of construction is staggered depending on where the building falls into one of four tiers. The first tier, which includes any building with an adult care, educational, or assembly occupancy, will have to be retrofitted within four years of the law's operative date. The second tier, which includes any building of fifteen or more units, would have to be completed within five years. The third tier, which includes all buildings not in the other tiers, would have to be completed within six years. The fourth tier, which includes any building with a business operating on the bottom floor or properties in a mapped liquefaction zone, would have to be completed within seven years. 

These retrofits, while essential to the resiliency of our housing stock, aren't cheap, and we all recognize that the legislation will create hardships. Retrofits are estimated to cost between $60,000 and $130,000 per building. Under San Francisco's pass-through provisions, 100% of the costs of the retrofit can be passed on to tenants, subject to hardship exemptions. 

Recognizing the challenges some property owners will face paying for the work up-front, the Mayor's Office has been working with private banks to create good financing options for property owners, including being able to refinance current loans to add in these costs or carrying a second loan if the property owner already has a first loan with the institution. This Fall, there will be a workshop at which property owners can work with these lending institutions to explore options.


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Paid for by Re-Elect Scott Wiener for State Senate 2020. FPPC # 1392654. 4035 18th St., San Francisco, CA 94114.

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