Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Portland URM Policy: Vote on Building Warning Signs Originally Set for Sept. 12th at Portland City Hall - Rescheduled to 10/3

In June of this year, the Portland City Council released its recommendations for its staff in creating a policy for mandatory seismic retrofitting of unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings in the city.

Among those recommendations was a direction to:

...develop a placarding ordinance, with an effective date of March 1st, 2019 and enforced by Portland Fire and Rescue with an appeal process administered by the Bureau of Development Services, for all URM buildings that are not retrofitted to a level expected to prevent collapse in an earthquake and that placard shall be no smaller than 8 by 10 inches and shall state clearly in a conspicuous place at the entrance of the building printed in not less than 30-point bold type: "This is an unreinforced masonry building. Unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake.", and return to Council for adoption within 3 months. 

As proposed, a similar warning would be required in all rental agreements. The proposal is scheduled for a vote at the Portland City Council meeting on Wednesday, September 12, 2018, at 9:45 am. 

The vote has since been rescheduled to October 3 at 2 pm.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has been supportive of this requirement, saying, "Every tenant and occupant has a right to make an informed decision on whether they want to live in an URM."

Owners of URM buildings have pushed back against these requirements, arguing that the city should not be penalizing buildings that are up to code. Furthermore, the city's list of URM buildings is not entirely accurate - some of the buildings included on the list have already been upgraded. For those that have been upgraded, engineers from the city are not always available to verify this

Local attorney and URM building owner Walter McMonies, who served on the City's URM Task Force, points out that the URM Policy Committee advocated for positive reinforcement, rather than public shaming. According to McMonies, "Imposing negative placarding on all listed URMs as of March 1, 2019, will stigmatize buildings that may not even be URMs and will make it much more difficult for the owners to market or lease units, obtain mortgage financing, sell their building, etc." 

A cost estimate from the City of Portland finds that the median cost of retrofits for Class 3 buildings would be $48 per square foot (costs range from $43 to $65 per square foot). But as McMonies points out, banks are wary of lending to URM buildings. The city's PropertyFit program could help fill some of the funding gaps, but capital providers involved in the program still have discretion over whether they will choose to invest in a retrofit.

City staff has been instructed to return to the Council with a final URM retrofit policy for adoption by June 2019.

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