Restore Oregon

Restore Oregon Helps Prepare Portland for Cascadia Earthquake; Encourages Financial Incentives to Offset Cost of Seismic Retrofitting

Illustration of seismic retrofitting. (Photo courtesy of the Oregonian)

The high cost of seismic retrofitting has long been an obstacle to the rehabilitation and reuse of historic buildings constructed of unreinforced masonry (URMs), which adds to the many pressures accelerating their loss. Restore Oregon devoted a year of study in 2012 to this issue and published a Special Report on Resilient Masonry Buildings with a series of recommendations the state could adopt.

On November 8th, Portland’s URM Advisory Committee (which included Executive Director, Peggy Moretti) recommended that Portland mandate a higher level of seismic retrofitting than is currently in city code.  If adopted by City Council, it would require the bracing of parapets, and the attachment of the roof and floor to walls within 15 years to better prevent building collapse in an earthquake.

The mission of Restore Oregon is to preserve, reuse, and pass forward the historic places that make our communities so livable and sustainable.  Hundreds of URMs in Portland – built long before we knew of an earthquake threat – play an important role as housing, schools, theaters, stores, restaurants, churches, and cultural centers. And they provide extraordinary character and a unique sense of place.

Public safety is of paramount importance and all agree we need to improve the seismic resilience of our URMs.  But it is not fair to mandate that private property owners bear the burden for this public benefit. The majority of these buildings are owned by small business people, not wealthy corporations.

Recent state legislation (SB311) provided local jurisdictions with the option to create a property tax credit to offset the cost of seismic retrofitting.  That was a step in the right direction, but does not provide sufficient funds in many cases to cover the very substantial upfront investment.  Many small property owners lack the ability to borrow the sizable sums required, or recoup that investment without a significant rent increase for tenants.

It was Restore Oregon’s recommendation that the City not implement the new mandate until additional financial incentives are available that would offset 75% of the cost.

We urge the City to collaborate with other Oregon Cities and make passage of a Seismic Retrofitting Tax Credit a top priority of their legislative agenda.  This investment will create jobs, help retain and restore historic buildings, and save lives.

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Statewide Partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation