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Byron Shire
March 29, 2023

People forced to sell flood-damaged homes as NRRC dithers

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One year on and the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Commission (NRRC) still have not progressed spending the $800 million they’ve been granted to purchase the estimated 2,000 homes and land in need of buybacks.

The NRRC aims to make the first 250 buyback offers by the end of April. A spokesperson for the NRRC told The Echo that, ‘The NRRC will provide all residents who have registered with the Resilient Homes Program with information about their eligibility for a voluntary buyback, house raising or house retrofitting by mid-2023.’

But for many it’s a case of too little too late, the financial strain coupled with misinformation, no information, and conflicting information has left many feeling abandoned with strong misgivings that the NRRC will have the funds and the capacity to help them.

In a media release from NRRC dated 4 November 2022, the NRRC states clearly that 6,000 homes are eligible for assistance as part of the Resilient Homes Program. This includes the 2,000 buybacks, 2,000 retrofits and 2,000 house raises. Most don’t know if they have met the criteria and, to date, no one has been paid. 

Still waiting, one year on

Camila is a resident of South Lismore who is one of the many still waiting, one year on, for answers about next steps. Like nearly everyone in her street, her house is a write-off. 

‘We feel desperate and betrayed,’ she says. 

‘They have the money in the bank, but they are doing what they do best – withholding it and forcing economic sanctions, hardship, and poverty on vulnerable disaster victims.’

Camila strongly believes there is not enough money for the thousands of buybacks needed in Lismore and Wardell and across the other LGAs. She believes that this is part of a bigger plan to ‘starve us out. So we take settlements below what our pre-flood market rate [was]. 

People selling privately

People have already started selling privately at the bottom of the market,’ she explains.

I am at Camila’s house when she points to houses in her neighbourhood that would have been valued at over $500k pre-flood but have sold to disaster investors at $150k. 

‘People can’t service the mortgage on an unliveable property’. 

They also can’t wait out unknown years for a buyback. They just don’t have the financial capacity.

So where are these people? Where do they go?

Camila also points out houses beyond her: ‘there is a couple there in their 90s but they won’t speak to you because they are scared if they speak to the media they’ll get nothing from the NRRC.’ Camila and her neighbours are worried about what will happen to the elderly in their neighbourhood who don’t have years to wait for housing solutions. The elderly couple are back living in their flood-damaged house.

Families traumatised by the flood

Adrian also lives in Camila’s street. He didn’t have insurance, and with two autistic children he had to do repairs with money from Service NSW. His wife and kids are traumatised by the flood and desperately want to move. 

‘My kids are traumatised, my wife is seeing a psychologist. She wants out. If we can get enough money from a buyback it would help, but we need a certain price. I am 55 and I only have a short time to get a mortgage.’

But Adrian is concerned that buyback amounts will preclude most from resettling in their community. 

‘Even if you do get a buyback – what can you actually get [here] for $500k?’ he asks.

‘We were told at a community meeting in December 2022 we would have a case manager to answer our questions and be contacted by the end of January. But it’s the end of February.’

For the many residents I spoke with to write this article, the issue is both their capacity to project-manage their rebuild and a lack of clarity about their eligibility for NRRC funding. Older residents have limited, and often no, borrowing capacity to do retrofitting and house raising that they need to complete so they can reoccupy their homes. They see money that could be spent on the long-term option of repairing their homes wasted on temporary accommodation.

Between a flood and a hard place

One woman I spoke to said she can’t repair her home until she raises it. She is 60. She can borrow the money to raise her home, then use insurance to fix it. But she cannot service the loan for a length of time, so without timeframes on reimbursement from NRRC she would be forced to sell. With many uninsured selling at bargain prices, those insured are selling because they can’t service mortgage extensions; this is disaster capitalism in action.

Buyers are swooping in.

Another Mullumbimby flood survivor told me she felt like her flooded community was a can they kept kicking down the road. The stress has seen her hospitalised.

Flood-affected people across our seven local government areas need fair outcomes. They need secure housing, they need flexibility and understanding from insurance companies and banks. But most of all they need to know where they stand. The limbo is putting immense needless pressure on people who are trying to rebuild their lives.

Slow NRRC response having devastating effects

Greens MP for Ballina, Tamara Smith, is concerned the slowness of the NRRC response is having devastating effects across the community.

‘I am told by our local paramedics that there are at least three people each week being sectioned and hospitalised owing to acute mental health issues directly related to the floods. This is deeply shocking and we must demand better for our people.’

Our flood-affected communities need action, fast. One year is too long to wait to be contacted. People need a plan.

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  1. Sad to say, it is shades of the National Bushfire Apocalypse 2019/20 being played out.
    After the initial rescue and stabilisation phase, the afters is the drawing out of miserable living situation.

  2. If the officials in charge of the money had been flood affected, you can bet your boots that the money would have been distributed as soon as they received it. It’s shameful to leave traumatised flood victims in limbo.

  3. So if you sell your house , flood wrecked ,which i did , in sth lismore, the new owner is eligible to Nothing.
    which The buyer of my house has told me. So the longer the buyback takes, the more houses are sold and for many desperate reasons. The less the NRRC spend.

  4. I have friends and family needing assistance but they don’t have much hope they’ll get it. There isn’t enough enough money in the fund to help everyone who needs it. If there are 2000 buybacks at approximately $500,000 each thats $1 billion. Then there are the other 4000 homes that need assistance. Apparently Mick Fuller can’t even do basic arithmetic. Must not be a skill needed in the police force…


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