Pre-WWII brick apartment buildings are part and parcel of Capitol Hill’s charm. Many also need expensive upgrades to ensure they don’t collapse in an inevitable future earthquake.
As the City of Seattle continues to slowly push forward requirements for seismic retrofitting, the new owner of the 56-unit Whitworth Apartments building says he decided to get the work done before the big one hits (not to mention the likely cost-savings of doing the upgrade before a retrofitting law is passed, which will send building owners clamoring for contractors).
Peter Goldman, a longtime Seattle resident, purchased the 17th and E John “unreinforced masonry” building this summer for $18.2 million, property records show. He told CHS his family had recently sold several properties out-of-state and decided to reinvest the money in two Seattle apartment buildings. The U.S. tax code encourages such reinvestments by delaying the capital gains tax.
“The only responsible thing to do is to prepare it for an earthquake,” Goldman said. “I don’t want to wait to be told what to do. I want to do the right thing.”
Goldman, an environmental lawyer, said he plans to keep rent increases to a minimum despite the cost of the upgrade, which he said would likely be substantial.
“I don’t intend to put it all back into rents,” he said “My family is going into this to be part of the housing solution.”
Residents at the Whitworth will not have to move out for the retrofit, Goldman said, and may only have to deal with one day of work inside their units. While the plans have not yet been approved by the city, Goldman is planning on a “bolts plus” retrofit in which un-reinforced masonry walls are fastened to the floors and roof. Other buildings require a far more expensive retrofitting requiring new steel beams.
On average, older apartments are cheaper than newer ones. As City Hall works to implement city-wide up-zones to encourage more density, there is a parallel effort to prevent widespread demolition of older buildings to preserve “organic” affordability.
It remains to be seen how seismic upgrades will impact that equation. On the commercial side, many small businesses fear that if they will be displaced should their building owners be required to complete seismic upgrades without any assistance.
CHS wrote about tenants getting priced out of the Whitworth back in 2013, when 20% rent increases on Capitol Hill were still noteworthy. A 600-sqaure-foot studio is currently listed on Craigslist for $1,795 a month — only a slight increase from three years ago.
In April, the City of Seattle added some 300 buildings to its list of old brick structures most at risk of damage or collapse in the event of a major earthquake. Among the 1,160 unreinforced masonry structures counted in a recent report, Capitol Hill continues to have the most of any neighborhood in the city — roughly 13%. Following the last round of URM building designations, CHS wrote about how some building owners were proactively retrofitting while others were fighting the designation.