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NSW house-raising scheme should be more widely available, flood-prone homeowner says

By Leah White, Monday October 26, 2020 - 07:22 EDT
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Kate Olivieri has successfully had her East Lismore home raised since the 2017 floods. - ABC

The New South Wales Government's house-raising scheme could be life-changing for those living in disaster-prone areas if it were easier to access and more affordable, a flood-affected resident of the north coast has said.

East Lismore resident Kate Olivieri had a metre of floodwater through her family home during the 2017 floods.

She said the NSW Government's voluntary house-raising scheme was a lifeline at a time when there were few options to relocate and the prospect of another flood was too hard to bear.

"It's a really big expense that would have been completely out of our reach without that grant," Ms Olivieri said.

Under the voluntary house-raising scheme, the State Government funds two-thirds of the costs of a house to be raised above the maximum flood level — which can cost anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000.

The remaining third can be paid for by the local council, but in most cases is passed on to the homeowner.

Ms Olivieri said the scheme needed to be affordable for more vulnerable residents, such as pensioners.

"It would mean stability of their home, knowing that they're safe where they are," she said.

"It means people have dignity."

House raising 'much harder' to access

Ballina Councillor Keith Williams is the chair of the Rous County Council, which administers the scheme on the Northern Rivers.

Cr Williams said flood-affected residents faced a number of hurdles in applying, including paying thousands of dollars for detailed project costs — including a development application — to find out if they were eligible.

"It really has made it so much harder for ordinary people to be able to take advantage of a scheme that is in the community's benefit as well," he said.

Cr Williams raised the issue at last year's Local Government NSW conference where a motion was passed calling on the NSW Government to remove the financial barriers preventing landholders from accessing funding, and to reinstate a local allocation approach to grants, rather than the current state-wide funding pool.

"We would have, in the past, known that we were going to be allocated two houses a year that could be raised," he said.

"Unfortunately, that's now changed where we're part of a state-wide pool, and we have no idea how many houses are going to be approved in any given year.

"It's frustrating because we were slowly working our way through some of the worst-affected houses, but we've virtually come to a halt over the past year or so simply because the State Government's raised the barriers to participating."

Flood-prone residents 'nervous' as La Niña forecast

The , meaning there is an increased chance of heavy rain, flooding and cyclones along Australia's east coast.

South Lismore resident Chris Regan said many flood-affected residents would be nervous with the prospect of a wet summer ahead.

"With more predictions of a lot more rain this summer, it's always in the back of your mind," he said.

"When it starts raining [you think], 'Oh, here we go again'."

Mr Regan said he had been on a waiting list for the voluntary house-raising scheme for years, after more than a metre of floodwater inundated his home in 2017.

"At the time I didn't think about selling because I didn't think we'd ever get a flood like that again, but the way the weather patterns are going … I'm actually thinking about it now," he said.

South Lismore resident Marion Conrow said she had been on the waiting list for at least four years.

Her home narrowly avoided being inundated in 2017, but was structurally damaged.

"I am concerned about my house being further damaged and floating away," she said.

Investing more 'makes economic sense'

Cr Williams said "the numbers stack up" for the Government to be investing more in house-raising grants.

"If we don't do these kinds of things of raising houses, the alternative is that we spend millions of dollars with levies or upgrading drainage and other things," he said.

"The cost of doing this is probably closer to $80,000 a house, and we can get a lot of people out of danger and out of harm's way for a lot less money than the bigger civil construction works would require."

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) said around $1.5 million was made available for the voluntary house-raising and house-purchasing schemes each year, which fell under the NSW Government's Floodplain Management Program umbrella.

A department spokesperson said that during the 2020–21 financial year seven councils applied for funding.

"The floodplains management grant allocation is a competitive process and local councils in flood-prone areas across the state continue to be encouraged to apply for these grants," the spokesperson said.

For Ms Olivieri, having a home that would not be inundated meant fewer interruptions to work and life.

"It is so much more cost-effective and better for the economy to do prevention instead of trying to fix things after the event," she said.


© ABC 2020

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