Translation Disclaimer

Building and Safety Division
Building and Safety Division

Retrofit Grants for Seismically Vulnerable Buildings 

New: Round Two of the Retrofit Grants Program will open in early 2018. The City is currently developing eligibility criteria, grant sizes, and program gLogo - Retrofit Grantsuidelines for the second round of the program. The second round of grants will be open to owners of:

  1. Older concrete buildings built prior to approximately 1979 or   
  2. Buildings with concrete or reinforced masonry walls and flexible roof or floor diaphragms (generally wood sheathing or metal decking), including tilt-up buildings, built prior to approximately 1997
  3. Owners of soft story and unreinforced masonry buildings who did not apply in round one  

In November Collapsed Tilt Up2017, a team of volunteer structural engineers working with the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) conducted a “sidewalk survey” of the exterior of numerous buildings to help the City better understand the community’s potential vulnerability in the event of a major earthquake. The City will use the data collected to help develop priorities for the second round of Retrofit Grants funding. Check this website for updates in early 2018.  

Round One (2017) Program Information

The City of Berkeley has received a Hazard Mitigation Grant from FEMA and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to provide seismic retrofit grants to the owners of Soft Story buildings with five or more units and Unreinforced Masonry buildings. Owners are eligible for reimbursement of up to $5,000 for Design Costs and either 30% or 40% of Construction Costs up to a total of $25,000The Retrofit Grant Program is designed to help owners of vulnerable buildings increase safety and mitigate the risk of damage caused by earthquakes.      

How to Apply

  1. Check Eligibility Requirements below  
  2. Apply for a Building Permit if you have not already done so. The engineering drawings submitted as part of the permit application will be forwarded to FEMA for their review and approval.
  3. Read the Reimbursement Guidelines.
  4. Complete and submit the Retrofit Grants Application. Applications for design grants will be accepted on a rolling basis. Contact (510) 981-7475 if you missed the April 2017 deadline to apply for a construction grant and would still like to apply.


Grant funding is currently limited to the following types of buildings: 

  • Soft Story buildings with 5 or more residential units subject to mandatory retrofit
  • Unreinforced Masonry buildings subject to mandatory retrofit
  • Soft Story buildings with 5 or more units, which are not all defined as “dwelling units”, such as motels, or buildings with a combination of residential units and commercial spaces. 

Grants are NOT available for Single Family Homes or Duplexes. Transfer tax rebates are a source of funding for retrofits of residential buildings for new owners.

Grant Reimbursements

Grants will be paid as reimbursements for design fees and construction costs for seismic retrofits. All construction work related to a seismic retrofit must be performed by a licensed contractor to qualify for grant funding. FEMA mitigation payments that benefit property owners through the mitigation of their structures are not subject to Federal income taxation. See page 87, section D7 of FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Assistance Guidance.

To receive grant funding, a Reimbursement Request must be submitted with copies of invoices and cancelled checks proving payment to contractors. Design costs will be reimbursed after the building permit is obtainedConstruction costs will be reimbursed after the final inspection of the completed retrofit project.        

Grant Funding CAN be used for: Grant Funding CANNOT be used for:
Engineering and Architectural Fees Permit application fees 

Contractor Fees for labor and materials, special inspections, and engineering costs for structural observation.

Construction costs unrelated to the seismic retrofit, such as costs for remodeling an apartment

Design Grants

Design Grants for up to $5,000 are available for engineering and architecture fees for design costs incurred after September 22, 2015. Design fees incurred prior to this date are not eligible for grant funding. Design Grants are not available for projects that have already begun construction. Grant requests may not exceed actual design expenditures. 

Applications for Design Grants are being accepted on a rolling basis. Once approved for funding, applicants must be issued a building permit and submit for reimbursement within one year to be guaranteed Design Grant funding. Building owners who do not meet this deadline will receive funding on a first-come first-served basis.

To Process a Design Grant Reimbursement:

  1. Obtain a Building Permit.
  2. Read the Reimbursement Guidelines.
  3. Follow the guidelines for seeking multiple proposals from engineers and provide the required documentation to the City. You can use this form to document your engineering proposals.
  4. Submit a Reimbursement Request with copies of invoices for the full cost of the design and copies of cancelled checks proving payment to design professionals. 

Construction Grants

Owners who apply for a Design Grant may receive a Construction Grant of up to 30% of retrofit costs. Owners who do not apply for a Design Grant, or who incurred the majority of their design costs prior to 9/22/2015 may receive a Construction Grant of up to 40% of construction costs. Owners may receive a maximum combined total of $25,000 between Design and Construction Grants. 

To receive a Construction Grant, applicants must wait for notification of FEMA approval for funding before beginning construction on their retrofits. Once the project is approved by FEMA, applicants should complete their retrofit construction within six months to be guaranteed grant funding. 

Owners who applied for Construction Grants in round one of the program (spring 2017) were notified by the City of Berkeley of the status of FEMA's review of their project in the first week of November 2017. Please contact us at (510) 981-7451 if you applied for a construction grant in spring 2017 and have not received a notification from the City indicating whether your project was approved by FEMA or is still in review. 

To Process Your Reimbursement for a Construction Grant:   

  1. Wait to be notified by the City of Berkeley that FEMA has approved your project to begin construction.
  2. Visit to confirm your contractor’s license is current.
  3. Follow the guidelines for seeking multiple bids from contractors and provide the required documentation to the City. You can use this form to document your construction bids.
  4. Complete retrofit construction within six months of FEMA approval.  
  5. Obtain all the required inspections, including an approved Final Inspection.
  6. Read the Reimbursement Guidelines.
  7. Submit a Reimbursement Request with copies of invoices for the full cost of the design and copies of cancelled checks proving payment to the contractor.

 Permit Valuation

Owners will only be able to claim reimbursement for construction costs based on a project cost equal to or below the stated valuation on their building permit application. If the costs exceed the stated valuation, owners should come in to the Permit Service Center, submit a permit revision with a higher valuation and obtain a revised permit prior to their final inspection in order to maximize their grant size. Once the final inspection occurs and the permit is closed, it will not be possible for owners to revise the valuation on their permit.

Example Project Calculation

A retrofit with $40,000 in construction costs can obtain a construction grant of $12,000 (30% of construction costs) plus up to $5,000 in design fees. Alternatively, the project can receive a construction grant of $16,000 (40% of construction costs).

A project with $100,000 in construction costs can obtain a maximum grant of $25,000, either $20,000 for construction costs plus $5,000 for design fees or $25,000 for construction costs.   

Retrofit Cost    Construction Grant    Design Grant    Total Reimbursement
$40,000 $12,000 (30% of cost) $5,000 $17,000
$40,000 $16,000 (40% of cost) $0 $16,000




$100,000 $25,000 $0    $25,000

Soft Story Buildings with 3-4 Units

There is no current funding through the Retrofit Grants program for retrofits of soft story buildings with 3-4 units. However additional funds may become available at a later date. Owners of such buildings may send information about their building, including the property address, number of units and owner contact information, to to be notified if grant funding becomes available in the future.


Contact Jonathan Cherry, Tel: (510) 981-7475, Email: or Jenny McNulty, Program and Administration Manager, Tel: (510) 981-7451, Email:


Home | Web Policy | Text-Only Site Map | Contact Us
Building and Safety Division, 1947 Center St, 3rd Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704
Questions or comments? Email: Phone: (510) 981-7440
(510) 981-CITY/2489 or 311 from any landline in Berkeley
TTY: (510) 981-6903