See if you qualify for money to prepare your home for the next big earthquake


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

If your home is among those that are not yet earthquake safe, you may qualify for a new state program to help pay for earthquake repairs. Beginning in late April, homeowners in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco can apply for grants to bolster single-family homes with a vulnerable “soft history” on the ground floor.

The most common example is an older home with a garage below the main living area, said Janiele Maffei, director of mitigation for the California Earthquake Authority, the agency that oversees the program.

“You’ve removed all the elements that resist the forces of the earthquake – and that’s the walls,” she said.

Many single-story homes can be reinforced with steel or wood, but homeowners are often balked at the high price tag — which can range from $14,000 to $27,000, Maffei said. The new pilot program, using $5 million in federal funding, is expected to provide at least 300 grants of up to $13,000 each. 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 throughout California are in need of light-story upgrades is unclear. But a 2016 report by the Association of Bay Area Governments estimated that 18,000 residential buildings of all types in the region have floors “that tend to cave in when shaken hard enough.”

Maffei said the hope is to apply for more funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expand the fledgling program to other cities, including San Jose and others in the South Bay. As a role model, she pointed to an ongoing statewide program to renovate crawl spaces in older homes that has helped nearly 20,000 families across the state.

To qualify for the pilot program, homeowners must live on the property and the home must have been built before 2000, before the building codes were updated.

Homeowners will be able to apply on the earthquake authority website and applicants will be chosen at random. 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 light-story upgrades for older wood-frame residential buildings with five or more units. But none require renovations to single-family homes. San Jose is in the process of finalizing a soft history law by this summer, officials said. There is no state mandate for seismic upgrades.

Oakland officials said 1,600 buildings still failed to comply with its light-story law, which took effect in 2019. On a city website, officials praised the program as having the potential to “not only save lives, but also the inventory of housing, better enabling Oakland to withstand the short- and long-term effects of a major disaster”.

Experts agree that low-story homes and apartments are most at risk of severe damage during a violent earthquake. Many were built during the 1960s and 1970s with “double” garages and ground floor parking. During an earthquake, seismic energy is supposed to be transferred upward through a building and back to the ground, but soft-story structures are usually too weak and collapse.

That’s what happened to some apartment buildings when a massive 7.8-magnitude tremor devastated parts of Turkey and Syria on February 6. At least 50,000 people died in the earthquake.

The clock is ticking to prevent a similar scenario for homes across the Bay Area.

Earthquake scientists estimate there is a 72% chance of an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or greater in the region within the next 30 years, according to the California Earthquake Authority. A US Geological Survey study in 2018 found that a magnitude 7.0 earthquake along the Hayward Fault in the East Bay could cause enough damage to displace an estimated 77,000 families and kill 300 people.

Photos of collapsed apartment units smashing cars and houses swaying from their foundations remain some of the enduring images of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area and the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles.

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