There was frustration in the air from Lismore residents as they listened to Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation’s (NRRC) leader David Witherdin on Friday morning provide the initial detail on the Resilient Homes Program.
The Resilient Homes Program and the Resilient Land Program are two key elements to the combined state and federal government’s response to the devastating floods in the region in February and March this year. $800 million has been put forward to fund the two programs that seek to facilitate quick land release across the region for housing and house buybacks, house raising, and house retrofitting.
‘We will start with properties that are the highest risk, those that are most likely eligible for the buybacks,’ explained Mr Witherdin.
They are predicting that there will be around 2,000 offers to buy properties in the highest risk areas, approximately 2,000 offers to raise houses and another 2,000 offers for retrofitting.
‘The program of works will touch about 6,000 homeowners,’ said Mr Witherdin.
‘There are exceptional circumstances at all levels and this has been built into the eligibility criteria. There will be situations that we haven’t thought of yet.’
Buybacks will be offered at the pre-flood valuation of the property.
House raising is up to $100,000. Above that cost the homeowner and government go 50/50.
Retrofitting for flood: for example lifting the wiring, putting in hard wall and floor coverings. Up to $50,000. Beyond that owner and government to go 50/50.
Calls for transparency
Responding to calls for more transparency and questions on why they have yet to release detailed mapping and other documentation for people to look at and the likelihood of options available to them, Witherdin said, ‘There is not an easy in/out – there is a detailed, sophisticated and robust assessment process that can’t be simply determined with a map. This was announced a week ago and today is the first community session here in Lismore. We are aiming to have outreach and people will start receiving texts in mid-November. There is a call centre set up, and case managers are ready to go.
‘People will have a case manager that will walk you through your options. You will have the same case worker so that you don’t have to keep retelling your story again and again.’
The fact that it is now eight months down the track, and people feel like they are living in limbo, fulled people’s frustration. Many attendees pointed out that they had spent significant amounts of their own money to get houses to basic living standards while they wait for the government response.
‘Full transparency is required here. People are settling because their mortgages are foreclosing,’ said one member of the audience.
‘Tell people “you’re one of the 2,000 buybacks”. Everyone is desperate to know. What is the criteria? The public are already stressed and has collective trauma. You need to push the funds out quickly and efficiently. Only ten per cent of the money has gone to the victims.’
Another audience member said ‘It took eight months to come up with this – so far nothing! I applied for emergency accommodation three days after the flood, I got a call six weeks later. I had to put a roof over my family’s head, I’ve spent $100,000 so far on fixing the house, and have borrowed from family, and friends to do it.’
Mr Witherdin responded saying ‘We are right at the start of the process. Our commitment is to get out there and to de-risk areas. We will give people fair value for their properties [as part of the buybacks], the market value for their properties before the flood.’
Another member of the NRRC addressed the crowd saying, ‘It will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Both inundation and rescue risk, flood velocities etc shape the sophisticated process of looking at what is available to a house in relation to buyback, raising or retrofitting.’
‘People have been through a lot,’ said Mr Witherdin.
‘This has been our first real opportunity to engage with the community. $700m has been announced for the Resilient Homes Program and this is an opportunity for people to understand how to engage with the process.
‘People need to understand that the process of recovery and reconstruction will take years. I understand the frustration of the community. Every day you are waiting in limbo it is frustrating. Assessment on a case-by-case basis is the approach we have taken to enable the best outcome for everyone.
‘The first successful outcomes will be with buybacks which will start mid-November and will look to complete in February in those high-risk areas.’
Land swaps are not currently part of the program said Witherdin. However, a key part of the program needs to ensure that those accepting buybacks are in a position to reenter the market.
‘Unlocking supply is critical. We want people to relocate to safer places. We are not contemplating a land swap at the moment,’ said Mr Witherdin.
‘There was latent demand already there before the floods. We want to match that, and the affordability of that land is critical. We don’t want sea changers coming in and taking it. We want people here to be able to afford to remain.’
Yet how they are going to achieve this is currently unclear. The Echo is waiting on more detailed responses from the NRRC on this, how renters are not excluded from the region and how sustainable energy and water supply will be addressed.
Register for the program
If you want your property to be considered by the Resilient Homes Program you must register with the NRRC at www.nsw.gov.au/nrrc.