Cyclone’s effects still rippling through community

Billinudgel gathered on Friday at the pub to celebrate the town’s flood resilience and recovery, one year after. While the adults mingled, the kids couldn’t keep out of the jumping castle. A website has launched to keep residents informed: Photo Jeff Dawson

Aslan Shand

A year on from ex-Cyclone Debbie there are still eleven of the 41 client groups, including families and single people, that Social Futures are helping to re-home from Byron, Lismore, Ballina and Tweed.

‘There are still people coming forward who are only now recognising how the flood event has impacted on them emotionally and psychologically, as well as the loss of possessions,’ said Julie Williams, manager of the Mullumbimby District Neighbourhood Centre (MDNC).

For one local man displaced from his home after the cyclone, it has taken seven and a half months to find a new home. Even though he has a three-year rent guarantee from the government, he has still struggled to even have a chance to look at possible rental properties. The key stumbling blocks are the fact that he is looking for a one- to two-bedroom home and has a dog.

‘I have only been able to get to see five possible rentals in that time and one place kept me in limbo for over a month,’ he said.

Lucie White, a flood project outreach worker at Social Futures, said the key challenges to re-housing people in this region are ‘Affordability, lack of smaller one- and two-bedroom dwellings and resistance from agents to housing vulnerable people.’

Another key issue that she raised is the impact of the black market in the local housing market.

‘All of the illegal rentals won’t take me because it has to be on the books and legitimate and then there are things like the funding body won’t fund anything with a compositing toilet.’

Julie Williams from MDNC agreed, saying, ‘There is absolutely a black market in rental.’

‘MDNC has, and continues to support, community members who are unable to get Centrelink rental assistance as their landlord won’t provide any evidence of tenancy. In addition, there may be an electricity debt to the landlord, but the tenant is unable to get assistance through the Electricity Assistance Program as the account is in the landlord’s name and there is no record that they are a tenant, or that they have incurred electricity expense.

‘Often tenants (and the landlord) don’t realise that they are still legally responsible even if there is no written lease. The result is people continue to live in non-compliant and substandard accommodation, unaware that they have rights as a tenant.

‘A concern is that people will continue to live in this accommodation as there are simply no other affordable options. Sometimes the landlords are in a precarious financial position themselves and are renting out parts of their property to make ends meet.’

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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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