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July 23, 2024

Occupants of empty buyback homes face eviction day

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Members of Lismore’s Reclaim our Recovery community group called for a last-minute gathering of supporters this morning as people continued to occupy otherwise empty bought-back houses in North Lismore.

Locals and travellers alike were said to be living in houses on Pine Street and elsewhere that officially belonged to the NSW Reconstruction Authority (RA) thanks to their former owners’ participation in the Resilient Homes Program’s buyback scheme.

RA head Mal Lanyon told ABC North Coast listeners last week bought-back homes would be managed on a case-by-case basis.

Owners of flood-damaged homes also had the option of gifting the properties to others, Mr Lanyon said, but recipients were expected to prove to the RA they could shift the homes onto flood-free land within a year.

Dr Elizabeth Mossop at the Living Lab, meanwhile, told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom houses deemed unsuitable for relocation were to be checked for any salvageable parts, such as locally sourced so-called ‘Big Scrub’ hardwood and heritage features.

The Living Lab project used expert post-disaster knowledge, much of it from the United States and its Hurricane Katrina disaster, and community needs to create a collaborative vision for the future of Lismore with flood risk mitigation as its main imperative.

Teams from Southern Cross University and the University of Technology in Sydney were leading the project, which Dr Mossop said was independent but received RA funding.

Dr Mossop declined to comment on the occupy movement happening in North Lismore where Reclaim our Recovery members said vacant properties were being ‘left to sit empty and deteriorate’.

Request for right to occupy unmet

Rather than allow these homes to waste away, a community of locals, artists, travellers and land carers are taking peaceful action – occupying and protecting the properties to prevent them from being boarded up,’ RoR’s media release read.

RoR said the RA was trying to forcibly evict the occupants.

The continued dispute featured a police visit to at least one house on Pine Street earlier this month, which RoR member Andrew George said was ‘an interesting encounter’ that did not result in any arrests.

RoR members wanted the RA to issue ‘licences to occupy’ to the unofficial residents, as has reportedly happened in other scenarios, but a recent meeting between the two groups failed to reach resolution on the request.

Rights restricted to former property owners

It’s understood the RA has only so far issued licences to people selling their damaged homes to the agency, allowing the former owners extra time to work out where they will live.

RoR said the RA was letting former owners decide whether they would use their licences to house others, including former paying tenants, despite having otherwise relinquished responsibility for the properties.

‘Safety and liability concerns’ were cited, RoR said.

But members said former landlords were ‘the same people who disconnected the services when the homes were first boarded up’.

Mr George told Community Newsroom of a man who had paid rent for fifteen years in one property, only to be left effectively homeless when his landlords accepted a buyback offer and issued an eviction notice.

Other former rent-payers were described as contributing to the repair of damaged properties before receiving their notices.

House You founding member and RoR supporter Chels Hood Withey said it was unconscionable to leave people without a roof over their heads in the middle of a housing crisis.

House You, a campaign aimed at prioritising housing on the Northern Rivers, was to ally with RoR for a community gathering on site at Pine Street today aimed at preventing eviction.

‘We want to see these homes moved to higher ground to provide urgently needed public housing,’ Hood Withey said.

RoR said it was urging the RA to engage in transparent, community-led direct and deliberative democratic processes and fulfil promises of truly affordable housing through the Resilient Homes and Resilient Lands programs.

‘Any house that has been bought back has been inspected for safety multiple times,’ RoR founding member Miriam Torzillo said, ‘these homes were safe when they were boarded up; they are still safe’.

‘These homes are perfectly livable, yet they’ll be left empty for up to four years while people are desperately in need of shelter,’ Ms Torizillo said.

‘How hard can it be for the RA to simply connect these empty homes with the community members who want to live in them?’

Mr George said the properties could be used for public housing, saving taxpayers $2,500 per property he said was spent on disconnection and security, and generating a revenue for the government.

Lismore local flooded and desperate for a home

Speaking to The Echo late Monday morning, Hood Withey said supporters to have visited the site so far that day included Greens Lismore City Councillor Adam Guise and the former property owners.

Another meeting between RoR and the RA last week, this time with Mr Lanyon and NSW Disaster Recovery Parliamentary Secretary and Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin present, failed to offer any security for occupants.

Lachie, who declined to share his last name, told The Echo he moved into one of the occupied properties on Pine Street last week after helping others improve it via gardening and other maintenance over the past month or so.

Lachie said he was a young man born and raised in Lismore, where his family home was flooded in 2022.

His family was forced to evacuate and live elsewhere temporarily but the RA did not approve their buyback application.

Subsequently, Lachie said, they moved back into the damaged home but conditions became cramped, prompting him to seek a new home.

Lachie said he was quite nervous about the prospect of authorities trying to evict him and ‘trash our stuff’ but would not be complying with any order to go.

He planned instead to return to the occupied house or to stay in a tent RoR supporters erected on site this morning.

Hood Withey said there were two yurts, a tent and a caravan ready in case RA rendered the house unusable after issuing an eviction notice on 11 June, due to take effect midday Monday.

There was room for around twenty people, Hood Withey said, enough to accommodate occupants of two properties to have received notices.

The scene was peaceful, they said, with pumpkin soup and chai brewing.

Lachie said he was inviting the wider community to come meet occupants and see the properties for themselves rather than make assumptions.

He said the homes were cozy with fireplaces in use to keep occupants warm in the recent cold weather.

Hood Withey said the exact number of occupants and buyback properties occupied was unknown but estimated fewer than a hundred occupants in Lismore.

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  1. Yep must be time to kick these homeless to the kerb after all it’s winter . Sarcastic
    For goodness sake let these people alone or provide social housing for them .
    Good on them for finding somewhere dry instead of on Lismore city streets in the cold .

  2. Leave them alone ,its cruel and inhuman to let people live out in the cold when there is a roof over their head available.

  3. Those fire places probably haven’t been used for 50 years or more you may find some may BURN BURN BURN, BABY , BURN BURN BURN, House and occupants
    Before winter is over. Total Madness

  4. Yeah it’s insane to kick out people from a place of shelter to the street when are we going to get rid of air b and bs to end the housing crisis and have more affordable housing on the market

  5. I do believe that the buy back scheme was a good idea. But rather than leave the way open for needy people to seat In these house. Why not pull finger and shift them and also get them livable to either be Bought or Rented
    Rosa Smith, former resident of Losmore.

  6. Here we find the dichotomy of remote administrators. Firstly we have damaged homes that have stood against flooding for up to a century and requiring cleansing and refitting. A task that has been completed in many homes that were equally inundated in adjacent streets. These equally inundated homes were not subject to buy-back offers or orders. Next we consider the plight of homeless people for whom there is no accommodation I’m the area. Where to for them. On one hand you have homes you won’t use and on the other you have people you can’t house. I always believed that this Pitt Street (Sydney) idea was a mess and yes it is because right across the Richmond and Wilson catchment are homes that were inundated and now have been rebuilt, never being considered for buy-back attention. This us a bad joke perpetrated by fools.


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