City of Portland Announces Federal Funds to Help Pay for Seismic Retrofits for 150 homes

$500K in FEMA funds will pay up to half the cost to bolt houses to foundations and ensure safety


(Portland, Ore.)— Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick announced today that another round of federal funds allocated to a City of Portland pilot project will help homeowners seismically strengthen their homes.

The pilot project is the next stage of a partnership between the City of Portland and Enhabit (formerly Clean Energy Works), an Oregon non-profit, and is designed to increase the number of seismically upgraded homes in the city. The federal grant will pay up to half the cost of seismic upgrades for 150 local eligible homeowners, who were chosen at random from a wait list compiled last summer in coordination with Enhabit.

The selections were weighted to ensure that half of all upgrades are made to homes under the median market value for a Portland home. Enhabit and the City of Portland applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the funding last summer.

“It’s essential to the survival of the city that people’s homes be bolted to their foundations. If too many houses do not survive the earthquake, people will leave and many won’t return – as in New Orleans after Katrina. We are delighted that FEMA is making this investment in this critical aspect of preparedness. It would be great to have $500 million instead of $500,000, but every bit helps, and we trust that in the future, Congress will give FEMA much more money for this kind of pre-disaster mitigation,” says City of Portland Commissioner Steve Novick.

Enhabit, which helps homeowners complete and finance seismic, energy efficiency, radon mitigation and solar energy projects, will manage the 150 seismic retrofits, all of which will be completed in 2016. The first phase of the pilot provided retrofits to 23 homes. Enhabit-certified contractors have completed more than 60 seismic retrofits to date, and the organization is forecasting completion of a total of 300 projects in 2016, with an eye toward continued growth and collaboration with the City and FEMA in future years.

“With our nation’s infrastructure falling apart and falling behind, making these crucial investments to prepare for natural disasters is essential,” said Representative Blumenauer. “It’s encouraging to see FEMA helping empower those homeowners who most need help making these important seismic upgrades. Investing in prevention reduces risks to our communities and allows for a more efficient use of already strained relief resources.”

“This grant helps to provide much-needed updates to retrofit older Portland homes built decades ago without the ability to withstand strong earthquakes. I am proud to have supported the city’s grant application, which recognizes the potential impact of a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and the need to act with a sense of urgency to finance essential safety preparations,” notes Sen. Ron Wyden.

“We can’t just put our heads in the sand and pretend that a major earthquake isn’t a possibility for our region. We need to focus on earthquake preparedness and resilience at all levels of government,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley. “Too many of our homes, roads, bridges and businesses are not designed to withstand a major earthquake and this funding from FEMA will help Portland homeowners get a little more peace of mind,” he added.

The potential for widespread damage to homes after a major earthquake in Portland is high. Western Oregon and Portland are located near the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault off the coast capable of producing earthquakes similar to the Tōhoku quake in Japan in 2011. The last major Cascadia earthquake was in the year 1700 and there are also several faults running through the city. Portland has about 100,000 older unreinforced single-family homes that may be vulnerable to shaking from an earthquake.

“Homeowner urgency and interest in seismic strengthening has increased dramatically over the past year,” said Tim Miller, CEO of Enhabit. “Our hope is that as we can continue to work with the City of Portland and the federal government we can ensure that hundreds—or even thousands—more homes are upgraded and better prepared for the earthquake we know is coming.  While we’re at it, we’re continuing to create good jobs in our community.”

Enhabit offers a unique “one-stop shop” for home upgrades, making it easier for homeowners to complete energy efficiency, seismic, radon mitigation and solar energy upgrades. The organization helps homes work and feel better, while providing customers with everything needed to complete upgrades, including rebates, skilled contractors, no-money-down financing and a free 100-Point Performance Check that illuminates all the opportunities to improve a home’s performance.

“The City’s partnership with Enhabit demonstrates an important public-private approach to increasing Portland’s earthquake resilience,” says Carmen Merlo, PBEM Director. “By keeping people safe in their homes, we are more likely to recover quickly after a disaster,” she added.

About Enhabit
Enhabit (formerly Clean Energy Works) is a non-profit organization headquartered in Portland, Ore. that’s focused on building more resilient communities. Enhabit is the next step for homeowners who want to make their homes work and feel better. From the initial review of the home, to choosing a trusted contractor and financing to make the right efficiency, health and safety upgrades affordable, Enhabit is committed to high-performance home renewal that makes sense.