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New Program Can Help Protect Southern California Homes in the Event of an Earthquake

Residents Have Until May 31 To Apply For Seismic Retrofit Grants

By Janiele Maffei, Chief Mitigation Officer for the California Earthquake Authority

California is home to nearly 40 million people, living in a wide variety of homes up and down the state. Driving through almost any Golden State neighborhood, you will notice homes featuring one or more floors of living space built above an attached garage and the ground floors. These are called soft-story homes, and because of a weakness in the lower story, they may be prone to partial or full collapse if a strong earthquake were to strike.

Soft-story homes are often found in densely populated cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. In San Francisco alone, city officials estimate there are 180,000 residents living in soft-story structures. These homeowners could quickly be displaced from their residences following an earthquake. Los Angeles, San Francisco and a handful of cities in California have taken steps to put into place mandatory soft-story retrofit programs aimed at strengthening their office buildings, multi-story apartment complexes and other residential buildings and dwelling units, which is why the time is right to offer similar protections to California homeowners living in a soft-story residence.

The vulnerability of soft-story homes stems from the fact that there is a wide, open ground floor and a large garage door opening. The existing walls of the garage are not braced to withstand earthquake motion and shaking. To strengthen a home against earthquake damage and to help prevent a partial collapse of the home and its open front walls, it is worth considering soft-story retrofit solutions.

The good news? The California Residential Mitigation Program (CRMP) recently launched a new pilot program to help homeowners in select cities safeguard their soft-story residences against the threat of an earthquake.

Eligible homeowners in 82 different ZIP Codes in the cities of Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley can apply for grants to retrofit their soft-story homes. We anticipate initially awarding a total of 375 grants. Funding will vary in amount and will be up to 75% of the total retrofit cost with a maximum of $10,000 or $13,000 depending on house type and what a retrofit would entail. Registration is open now and will continue through the end of
May. More information on how homeowners can apply can be found at www.EarthquakeSoftStory.com.

Making a soft-story home more resistant to earthquake damage may involve adding new hold downs, new anchor bolts and installing new plywood sheathing. For additional reinforcement, bracing of the front wall will require a new concrete foundation and either a new steel column or proprietary shear wall to be installed.

This is important work, and it takes a trained contractor to do it. Since this program is new, we need contractors in all eligible ZIP Codes to get trained, and they must first register for the program. Licensed contractors interested in participating should go to the CRMP website where they will find the resources they need to get started in the program.
In recent years, CRMP’s Earthquake Brace + Bolt (EBB) retrofit program has provided earthquake retrofit grants to help nearly 20,000 Californians pay for seismic retrofits of older homes that have a crawlspace. Based on the success of that program, we know the soft-story program will be a vital tool to help safeguard homes.

Living in California, it’s not a matter of if, but when the next major earthquake will strike. By applying for grant funding, you are making a long-term investment in one of your most valuable possessions, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on future damage repair costs following a major earthquake. Think of a soft-story seismic retrofit as a type of preventive maintenance measure to reduce the risk of collapse of your home and, more importantly, to protect the safety of your family. We urge all eligible residents to apply before the registration window closes.

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