More than 2,000 homeowners will get free money to retrofit their homes to help them better withstand earthquakes, according to the top official at the California Earthquake Authority.
The homeowners were on a waiting list for the Earthquake Brace + Bolt program, which gives seismic retrofit grants of up to $3,000 to retrofit homes.
The managers of the EBB program were already in the process of providing grants to some 2,000 homeowners who were chosen in a lottery for the grants when it was decided to also give out grants to those on the waiting list.
More than 7,500 homeowners had signed up for the program, which is funded from the CEA’s Earthquake Loss Mitigation Fund. The number of signups reached a record, it was reported in February.
The CEA governing board recently approved a transfer of $3.3 million to expand the 2018 EBB program and fund additional retrofit grants for the homeowners on the waiting list, according to CEA CEO Glenn Pomeroy.
Because of the board’s decision, the program will be funding the highest number of retrofits since it began in 2013, when the program was kickstarted with a modest number of grant recipients.
“When all is said and done we think we’ll retrofit somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 homes, which is amazing given the fact that we did about 10 homes when we started out in 2013,” Pomeroy said.
More than 5,600 retrofits have been completed since the program began in 2013, according to the CEA.
Roughly 5,000 homeowners were accepted in March into this year’s program, which is a higher number of retrofits than the program managers plan to hand out. For a variety of reasons, roughly 40 percent of accepted homeowners usually complete the program, so the number of homeowners accepted into the program often exceeds the number of funded retrofits.
The remaining 2,525 homeowners from this year’s list of applicants were placed on the waiting list.
This year’s program was offered in 51 cities and roughly 180 ZIP codes. Homeowners were given a 30-day period to go online and sign up and be selected. The ZIP codes included are typically those facing the highest risk of residential earthquake damage. Risk is determined by combining local geological hazard information with the vulnerability of older homes and the construction type.
The EBB program isn’t limited to homeowners with CEA policies, although Pomeroy noted that those who do get the retrofits will be eligible for a 20 percent discount on CEA policies, which may go up to 25 percent next year if the California Department of Insurance approves a CEA request that has already been submitted, according to Pomeroy.
He said he estimates about a quarter of those who were awarded retrofit grants have policies, which he views as a win for the CEA.
“We’re getting more of our book retrofitted,” he said.
Participating homeowners are also completing their EBB retrofits at a record pace, with more than 1,200 retrofits in the 2018 program completed, according to the CEA.
Costs to do the retrofits vary around the state. According to the CEA, the retrofits in Southern California average between $4,000 and $4,500, while they are closer to $5,000 or $6,000 in the Northern portion of the state.
EBB grants are available for houses built before 1979 that include a crawl space with unbraced cripple walls, low walls between the foundation and first floor, and are not bolted to the foundation. In a strong earthquake, an unbolted house can topple off its foundation and unbraced cripple walls make the crawl space vulnerable to collapse.
Pomeroy said the CEA is looking into expanding the number of seismic retrofits undertaken in California.
“The need is so enormous,” he said. “There are over 1 million homes in California that need this kind of retrofit work, so we have a long ways to go. We’re looking at hopefully someday starting a foundation to help.”
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