News & Events

News & Events

9.1.2010

Portland’s Unreinforced Masonry Apartment Buildings: A Threatened Species?

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Now that Western Oregon and Washington have been identified as being subject to massive if infrequent “subduction zone” earthquakes and that the vulnerability of unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings to damage or collapse in a major earthquake has been documented, the owners of URM apartment buildings can expect to face gentle but inevitable pressure from casualty insurers, mortgage lenders and the local government to seismically reinforce their buildings. The challenge facing such owners is that the (1) cost of a standard seismic retrofit of an URM building will in many cases approach 20 percent of the value of that building, but (2) the retrofit adds little to the cash flow of the building aside from marginally lowering earthquake insurance premiums and mortgage interest rates. Given the large number of and historic/ architectural importance of URM apartments to Portland, URM building owners, architectural preservationists, structural engineers, mortgage lenders and insurers, and city and state officials need to work collaboratively to reduce impediments to and increase incentives for seismically upgrading URM apartments. View full article (PDF).

This article first appeared in Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate Quarterly Journal prior to Walt joining Lane Powell as a shareholder.