Councilors eye code change for Portland buildings likely to collapse in big earthquake

This Lloyd District condominium building is one of more than 1,600 Unreinforced Masonry Buildings in Portland that will need major earthquake retrofitting if city plans go into law. (KATU Photo)

City councilors are looking to make buildings in Portland safer for when the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake hits.

Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management says there are 1,600 buildings that would crumble if the earthquake hit today.

These "URM," or Unreinforced Masonry Buildings, were mostly built between 1870 and 1960 and make up a significant part of Portland's skyline.

The bureau has been studying this issue for more than three years.

Through a report, it's recommended ways to help businesses reinforce their buildings. However, retrofitting the structures could cost some of them millions of dollars.

“We're looking at a tax exemption. We're looking at a revolving loan fund, and there are a few other options that may help some building owners, but there isn't any one solution that helps everyone,” said Dan Douthit, the spokesperson for the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management.

That could be especially helpful for certain property owners like Kayla Anchell, who just bought her Lloyd District studio condo, when she heard about the possible retrofitting requirements.

"It’s terrifying. It’s really making me think, if this goes through, I’m going to be forced to sell my condo, not just what I bought it for, but at a huge loss, and I don’t know when I would be able to afford a home again," Anchell said.

Mayor Ted Wheeler also suggested extending the timeline some businesses have to make the changes.

But Anchell thinks the City Council needs to take into consideration how many single-family homes are included in this sweeping proposal.

"I just want the city to take on some of this huge financial burden for people that don’t have deep pockets, for people that aren’t large businesses, for people that are just like me, basically. This would have a devastating impact on my life," Anchell said.

A policy committee will continue to work on details for at least another year before city code is adopted and property owners have to make the changes.

Unreinforced Masonry (URM) Building Information, click here.

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