Seattle, WA. – December 14, 2021 – The Alliance for Safety, Affordability and Preservation (ASAP!) today announced that the City of Seattle unanimously passed a landmark Resolution focused on developing a program to retrofit unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs) in the City of Seattle.
ASAP! is a coalition of over 100 community groups, developers, property owners of unreinforced masonry buildings, historic preservation advocates, architects, engineers, and affordable housing advocates who banded together to proactively seek the development of a URM seismic retrofit program with city-funded technical experts.
“There are over 1,100 unreinforced masonry buildings in the City of Seattle,” said Peter Nitze, President and CEO of Nitze-Stagen, a local Seattle firm that has been responsible for the preservation and adaptive reuse of some of Seattle’s most iconic landmark buildings.
“These are buildings located in our historic neighborhoods and typically built before 1945 with brick or clay bearing walls that are not secured to the floors or roofs. With this URM program, we can work to preserve the past while sustainably repurposing these buildings for the future.”
Nitze added, “Critical to the feasibility of such a program will be realistic funding mechanisms. ASAP! has proposed mechanisms through the sale of retrofit credits tied to the transfer of development rights that, together with historic tax credits, C-PACER financing, and other sources can dramatically mitigate the financial burden on URM property owners.”
This November, the King County Council adopted a county administered C-PACER program, which allows Seattle/King County property owners to secure low-interest loans for seismic retrofits, storm water measures, fire protection, clean energy, and efficiency system upgrades.
The program ties the obligation to repay seismic and upgrade improvements to the property, rather than the owner, which means no debt is added onto an owner’s balance sheet. This creates long-term value with low-interest loans. If the building is sold, the loan repayment obligation stays with the property rather than the owner. The C-PACER program was introduced by the Washington State Legislature in 2021, and King County was the first county to adopt the program with the City of Seattle’s commitment to a URM retrofit program.
“ASAP! has been working to build a broad coalition of property owners so that all interests and financing options can be included in the City of Seattle’s program,” commented Brad Padden, Founder and CEO of Housing Diversity Corp.
“There are over 33,000 people in the City of Seattle currently living and working in URMs. Another event like the Nisqually earthquake, or worse, has the potential to cause widespread death and injury, displace thousands of our region’s most vulnerable residents and small businesses, and permanently damage some of our most distinctive historic structures. The question isn’t if, the question is when another large earthquake hits Seattle again.”
“As a property owner who has retrofitted several residential masonry buildings, I am pleased to see the City of Seattle working in tandem with the State and King County to help solve this problem. This is a really important tool in preserving safe, equitable housing in our city,” concluded Padden.
“We work with property owners daily who want to upgrade their masonry buildings but the cost to retrofit becomes a significant barrier,” said Eugenia Woo, Director of Preservation Services at Historic Seattle. “In Seattle alone, there are over 70 buildings classified at critical risk and another 180 at high risk. Most of these buildings are three stories and contain public assembly spaces for more than 100 people. Today, the City Council made a landmark decision to prioritize Seattle’s safety and historic structures.”
“As preservationists, we are also excited that this program will enable owners to include energy upgrades, further enhancing the role historic buildings play in the City’s clean energy future,” Woo added.
In 1970s, the Seattle City Council first adopted a mandatory URM policy but it was repealed a year later due to the financial burden to property owners. ASAP! formed in 2017 with a broad coalition of advocates, non-profit, and private building owners to address the barriers of cost in the provision of safety upgrades and adaptive reuse of historic masonry buildings.