-Appeared on Apartment Association California, Southern Cities (AACSC).

How would a massive earthquake impact California’s housing shortage?

The answer is obvious.  A major earthquake that hits densely-populated urban areas would make California’s housing shortage much worse.

Such an earthquake could take a heavy toll on California’s affordable housing supply, particularly the older, soft-story apartment buildings that are most at-risk of suffering extensive damage.

The impact on our affordable housing stock would be devastating.  The crippling loss of these structures would leave many thousands of people without a roof over their heads or a job to provide for their families.  Replacement of this housing would be both very expensive and time consuming.

In 2019, the number of people in this state without homes grew by more than 21,300 people, or 16.4% — more than all other states in the nation combined, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  This problem is increasingly being recognized by Californians and business organizations as part of a growing housing crisis.

Imagine how those numbers would be affected if a major earthquake were to strike California. The impacts could be very disruptive, especially given the fact that many of our region’s vulnerable structures are home to some of our most at-risk populations.

The majority of structures identified as at risk of failure in an earthquake represent older, more affordable apartment units.  Also subject to failure are older commercial buildings that provide much-needed manufacturing, logistics, and service-related jobs in the communities they serve.

Loss of this badly needed housing stock could force some Californians to move out of state to seek shelter and employment following the devastation of a massive earthquake.

Affordable housing at risk

After the 2017 fires in Napa and Sonoma counties people were faced with an out-right housing crisis. Those who were displaced, whether they owned their homes or rented, faced an expensive real estate market that was already seriously squeezed by a limited housing stock – particularly for affordable housing. Following the fires, many of those who lost their homes fell victim to rent-gouging. Families doubled-up with neighbors hoping to keep their children in the same school district.

This dire housing situation could become an even more serious concern following a major quake in more densely populated areas, the Association of Bay Area Governments determined.

If many of a region’s affordable housing units are lost in an earthquake, “a constrained market may drive up the cost of housing even further. Loss or damage of housing that results in increased costs… will likely increase the number of permanently displaced Bay Area residents.”

Earthquake Resilience benefits everyone

Greater building safety can be achieved through seismic retrofits.  The resulting sense of safety and security benefits both property owners and tenants.  Seismic resilience ensures:

  • Economic stability: Studies indicate that widespread the loss of housing and joblessness resulting from an earthquake disaster in California would trigger billions of dollars of economic loss to communities and the state.
  • Protection of affordable housing stock: Preserving this inventory of housing will help to avoid catastrophic displacement and homelessness.
  • Environmental health: Many seismically vulnerable buildings contain asbestos and lead. Preventing these structures from being damaged averts widespread exposure which can impact people and nature. It also avoids the overburdening of landfills should the state need to dispose of the ruins of a major quake.

Ultimately, identifying our most vulnerable buildings and retrofitting them for resiliency helps keep our housing supply healthy. And that’s good for everyone.