New grant gives Berkeley $1.2 million to retrofit seismically vulnerable buildings

Leonie Leonida/Staff

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A retrofit grants program will allow owners of seismically vulnerable buildings in Berkeley to receive up to $50,000 to retrofit their buildings, according to a Tuesday press release from the city of Berkeley.

Berkeley received a Hazard Mitigation Grant of $1.2 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to retrofit certain types of unstable buildings in order to reduce the risk of damage caused by earthquakes. The program will compensate owners for a percentage of the retrofit costs, according to a fact sheet from the city of Berkeley.

According to the sheet, the grant will focus on renovations for four types of commercial and multifamily residential buildings, including buildings with nonductile concrete, tilt-up, soft story and unreinforced masonry. This grant, however, does not include funding for single-family homes or duplexes.

“Some of our other efforts were focused on homeowners,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “I want homeowners to be safe, but I’m really worried about people living in apartments.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said the grant will pay for up to 75 percent of the design cost and 40 percent of construction cost, but the actual amount will vary for each building.

Chakko stated that the city tries to be proactive in retrofitting buildings. He added that the program is the first of its kind in California.

“We live in a city where earthquakes are always a potential hazard, so we’re always looking for ways to increase the safety of structures, especially homes and other buildings,” Chakko said.

The application deadline for the grant is Monday. Late applications will be accepted until July 11, although they will have a lower priority.

The city may cap grants for concrete or rigid wall-flexible diaphragm buildings at 40 percent of construction cost or place applicants on a waiting list if there are more applications than can be funded, according to the fact sheet.

“For years we’ve been encouraging people to do seismic retrofits, but some people were having a really hard time because some of the owners are building-rich but cash-poor,” Worthington said.

Grants will be paid as reimbursements for design and construction costs for seismic retrofits.  The city will notify owners by August 7 via email about the status of their design grant, as well as tentative construction grant award level, according to the fact sheet. Both will be subject to FEMA review.

Worthington estimated that the last retrofit grant reached approximately 400 apartments, from which about 1,000 people benefited.

“To get 400 apartments all done through one program is a huge victory,” Worthington said. “And we have the same amount of money this time, so we might be able to get another 400 units done.”

Contact Margaret Black at [email protected].