In our meeting with her last Monday, Victoria Salinas described many critical factors to take into account when implementing a retrofit strategy for Oakland. For example, while requiring the mandatory retrofit for most affected areas would be the most effective strategy from a technical point of view, the subsequent increase in housing cost would decrease the affordability of housing, especially detrimental given the low income status of the residents in the affected areas. Victoria also described where her agency was currently acting in the retrofit process. With funds from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the government Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), her agency was beginning a pilot program to effectively allocate the $2.5 million total for a targeted retrofit program. First in the retrofit pilot program was the survey and demographic analysis of tenants, as although landowners were surveyed in 2009, the city has little background on the tenant demographics. Our first role in the project, Victoria suggested, would be to evaluate this survey and their current survey methods for collecting this demographic tenant information.
II: What We Observed and Learned
From our conversation with Victoria and the readings provided, a picture of the issues at hand emerged. Soft story buildings are frequently apartments with a number of separate living units. In a survey conducted by the City of Oakland in conjunction with ABAG, inspectors were able to identify about 1,100 soft story buildings, containing 19,000 rental units. Considering an average of 2-3 people per unit, that amounts to around 45,000 people at risk for the next big earthquake. Additionally, these buildings frequently offer affordable housing options to disadvantaged members of the community. Although only 11% of the housing stock in the city, ABAG estimates that soft-story buildings could comprise around 67% of units lost during an earthquake. What this means is that during an earthquake event, the disadvantaged are poised to be disproportionately impacted. Those in lower income brackets are less able to sustain themselves during the rebuilding phase post-earthquake, and may be forced to migrate to an area with more affordable housing (Antioch, Stockton, suburbs of the Central Valley) to make ends meet.
Oakland is a city with a huge amount of cultural heritage. This is due in large part to the intermingling of religious, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, which all bring a unique perspective to view the city from. A major disaster could cause these societal bonds to become more fragile, as well as promote a more gentrified city (as developers target damaged properties, they may be prone to build condos or similar properties that generate a larger return on investment). In order to keep Oakland's heritage alive, an attempt must be made to create communities that are resilient, able to survive and thrive in tough conditions. This is why the City of Oakland is promoting a retrofit program, and is what motivates our team to come up with a solution that promotes equity and targets the most vulnerable.
III: Critical Analysis/Next Steps
Moving forward, our group has decided to focus on what we identified as three key areas:
1. Economic feasibility
2. Identifying the buildings on which we want to focus, and
3. Community outreach
We believe one of the main areas we can help Victoria is by examining the financial framework through which most of these retrofits will occur. San Francisco conducted a similar program, Community Action Seismic Safety Plan (CAPPS) in which the city partnered with Deutsche Bank to provide affordable loans to tenants and landlords of buildings that were improved upon. An Oakland tenant currently pays 70% of capital improvement cost while the landlord pays the remaining 30%. We are planning on discussing with Victoria exactly how fixed that 70/30 split is and if there is potential to rework those numbers on a case-by-case basis. This way, we could ensure that lower-income tenants would not be prohibitively burdened by cost of retrofitting.
We discussed how a potential Retrofit Strategy would be useful in minimizing the cost of the retrofits. Given that the building taxonomy in Oakland is likely to show that buildings can have similar structural characteristics and configurations, it would be very efficient and practical to identify some typical retrofitting schemes that could reduce the seismic vulnerability of multiple buildings. Considering that perspective, simple and economical retrofitting strategies could be presented, such that the retrofitting costs would be roughly calculated and general financial decisions could be taken.
The City of Oakland has already conducted a preliminary survey of potential soft story houses, and has identified 1,400 houses as being soft story. Oakland, as well as being in an area of high seismic activity, also has a large percentage of area that the USGS has identified as having a 73% chance of liquefaction in case of an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 or greater. While we do not know the exact numbers, there is a high chance a good number of those 1,400 soft story houses also fall in a liquefaction area. If this is the case, and factoring in the limited funds available, it may be smarter to ensure that the houses the program focuses on are ones that would definitely be preserved.
The third goal our group outlined was to make a big push for community engagement with the issue. There has already been a flyer sent out to all the soft story homes, outlining the problem, but it was written in English. There was a small amount of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish on the flyer but we think it may be better to print whole flyers in each language and distribute those accordingly. By building awareness about the pertinence of the problem, the community will react accordingly and retrofits would become common practice in all homes necessitating one. Additionally, we plan on reaching out to community organizers and attending community meetings to better understand the needs of tenants and landlords alike.