Seattle Times: Will Seattle at last take action on buildings that can kill when earthquakes hit? A new push is afoot

Public officials for decades have promised to deal with the old brick buildings in Seattle that could crumble with deadly consequences when a major earthquake hits — and have produced nothing but paper plans. Now some advocates hope a new attempt could at last lead to action.

A state bill that could help building owners finance retrofits is close to passing in Olympia. City Councilmember Lisa Herbold and Mayor Jenny Durkan have been discussing next steps. And a group made up of building owners, preservationists, architects, developers and affordable-housing operators has been lobbying Seattle to mandate the renovations.

Some advocates say state House Bill 2405 could pave the way for Seattle to adopt a retrofit mandate by providing owners of unreinforced masonry buildings with special loans repaid over 10 or 20 years or longer.

The bill, which has cleared the House and the Senate, would allow owners in participating counties to obtain private capital for clean-energy or seismic upgrades and repay those loans over time via assessments collected along with their property taxes.

The loans would be recorded as liens rather than on owner balance sheets and would be attached to buildings rather than to owners. The Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resilience (PACER) program would allow King County to assist owners without violating the state’s ban on public funds for private purposes.

Herbold described House Bill 2405 as a “critical” element in Seattle’s new push. Many other states already have such programs, and Washington’s version could apply to most commercial and apartment buildings.

“This could be a complete game-changer” for energy and seismic upgrades, said Rep. Davina Duerr, D-Bothell, the bill’s House sponsor.

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