Christchurch’s earthquake homeless

Rebuild Christchurch
One brick at a time Christchurch’s Earthquake Homeless
- Sunday Star
Times an and I thought that it would be good to share it here: The roses at number eight are
dead, the house abandoned. Gardens once perfectly manicured are overgrown with weeds.
Port-a-loos sit in driveways. On windy days, great clouds of silt blow down the street, leaving a
layer of grit over everything. The roadway is full of ruts and when it rains, water pools for days.
Houses and fences have a peculiar, wobbly look, like they were designed by Dr Seuss. With
every aftershock – and there have been more than 4000 since September 4 – cracks in walls
and floors get wider and longer, and people's nerves more frayed. Welcome to Seabreeze
Close, a once proud cul-de-sac in the new subdivision of Pacific Park, Bexley. The street, with
its 40 or so homes, provides a snapshot of the daily struggles that residents in suburbs like
Dallington, Avonside and Kaiapoi are enduring a full five months after the region was rocked by
a 7.1 magnitude earthquake along a previously unknown fault line. Home in Seabreeze Close
sold for $400,000 just five months ago – owners shudder to think what they are worth now.
Most of the street emptied after the quake, giving it a ghostly feel, but slowly people are
moving back. Many have no choice – emergency rental payments provided by their insurance
companies are running out or they weren't eligible in the first place. So they live in their wonky
homes, putting up with sewerage problems and grit that gets into lungs causing phlegmy
coughs. The whole street is likely to be bowled but no one knows when they'll have to move,
so they keep their things in storage and clothes in suitcases: lives unpacked. Good Canterbury
folk, they just get on with it, but they can't hide their anger and frustration. Nothing seems to be
happening. Long hours are spent on the phone to the Earthquake Commission, the city
council, insurance companies. "We'll get back to you," the call centre operator says. They hear
nothing for weeks. Many just want to be paid out so they can move on. "I'm just kind of stuck in
limbo really," says Laura McConchie, whose house sale fell through when the quake hit.
"They've just forgotten about us." Across the street Annette Preen surveys the house she
abandoned immediately after the quake. It's 30cm higher at one end than the other. Like many,
she's received the maximum payout from the ECQ ($115,000, minus a $1200 excess), but her
insurance company is yet to make any decisions. At one point someone came around to take
measurements to determine if the home would be demolished. "I thought `what the hell is he
doing wasting five hours here – anyone can see by looking at it that it's absolutely munted'.
Why can't I just bulldoze it?" But nothing can happen until the ECQ, insurance companies and
geotechnical engineers have co-ordinated their plans, says Bexley residents association
president Barry Tutt. "The hold-up is the geotechnical reports. While they have determined in
broad brushstrokes what they are going to do, they have yet to get down to the finer detail."
The EQC plans to build a massive submerged retaining wall around the edge of the wetlands
Rebuild Christchurch
One brick at a time that surrounds Pacific Park, to stop "lateral spread". "Until that is done, everyone is sitting ontheir hands. They won't do any physical work until the remediation is complete, or at least untilwe have four weeks without any severity for earthquakes. There's a lot of `hurry up and wait'going on." Residents have been told it could be up to five years before they can move intorebuilt homes on strengthened land, and for many that is unthinkable. "Some elderly don'tknow if they will be around in five years," Tutt says. "A mechanism to allow them to extracttheir funds and move on is desirable." Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel, herself a Bexleyresident whose home was damaged, says communication has been "appalling" and leadershiplacking. The government needs to provide solutions, she says. "I challenge the prime minsterto come to Seabreeze Close again. He was happy to go there with the television cameras, buthe should go there again. Come and see what it's really like for people five months on." WHENTHE earthquake struck at 4.35am on September 4, volcanoes of sand erupted into the homesand yards of Seabreeze residents, a process known as liquefaction. It took days to dig out thesilt and bulldozers were needed to clear the road. Five months on, there are still huge piles ofsand in Laura McConchie's backyard. But for a cruel twist of fate, McConchie, 32, wouldn't behere. She and her partner had separated and moved out of the four-bedroom home, putting iton the market and accepting an offer of $400,000, the same amount they paid for it. BySeptember 4 the sale had gone unconditional, but they agreed to let the contract go after thequake hit. Because she was not living in the house at the time, McConchie was not eligible foremergency rental payments from her insurance company, AMI. She stayed with her parentsbut in December decided to move back into the badly damaged home, as storage was costingher a fortune and her dog and three cats were overcrowding her parents. She is now paying amortgage, rates and insurance by herself. She found the toilets would overflow and was havingto drive to her parents' house, until a Port-a-loo was delivered. She was using that right up untillast week, when the council installed a septic tank. McConchie has received the maximumEQC payment, which went straight onto her mortgage, but has yet to have a visit from theengineering company carrying out assessments for AMI and has been told it could be anothereight weeks. An emergency call centre trainer for St John, she is spending more and moretime at work to avoid coming home. "I don't like inviting people over because it's not the samehouse, I've been putting things up here and there just to make it a bit more homely, but I justdon't feel comfortable in it. You just kind of shut yourself away. It's no way to live." Dalziel haswritten to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee on McConchie's behalf, calling on hishelp in what the MP calls "exceptional circumstances". Brownlee wrote back saying the bestpossible outcome for people who wanted to withdraw equity from earthquake-damagedproperties was to sell them on the open market, rather than to the government, and there wasevidence that house sales were returning to normal levels. McConchie was disgusted by theresponse. "I've been a taxpayer since I was 18. all I'm asking for is some kind of solution tohelp us out. Surely the government can do something and say `we'll take this over, we'll giveyou the money, you can go and do what you like and we'll rebuild and sell the houses when thetime comes'. But they don't want to do that because they know they'll never sell." Dalziel saysBrownlee's response is a cop-out. "The government needs to be thinking about how tofacilitate a solution. It doesn't necessarily have to be taxpayer or ratepayer-funded, it may bethis is the ideal opportunity for a public-private partnership that they keep talking about. Therehave to be some choices for people." While she plays the waiting game, McConchie has set upa Facebook page for "Pacific Park earthquake survivors", where people can share images ofearthquake damage and advice on how to deal with the authorities. Some are keen on the idea Rebuild Christchurch
One brick at a time of legal action against the council, which previously owned the land and sold it to developers inthe early 90s. "They should never have allowed the development to go ahead," McConchiesays. She is torn between wanting to just get out, and staying put to ensure she gets a fairoutcome. "Some people have said to me `just walk away, walk away and lose all your money'but I can't do that. I want to buy another house. It just feels like my life is on hold." ASANNETTE Preen, a nature photographer, stands in what is left of her garden, a flock ofCanadian geese flies over, heading for the Pacific Park wetlands. "This is why I love livinghere," says Preen, whose house was over-run by a "tsunami" of liquefied sand when the quakehit. She smashed her way out of her front door, only to fall face-first into several feet of mud. "Itwas like quicksand, it sucked you in." Preen is another who was not eligible for rent assistance,as her house insurance is with AMI and her contents with Tower. Through the intervention ofChristchurch National MP Aaron Gilmore, Tower was persuaded to pay Preen rentalassistance until the contents claim is settled. She has spent the five months since the quakehouse-sitting for friends – she laughingly calls herself a gypsy – and all her belongings are instorage. Preen is still waiting to hear how much AMI is prepared to pay for the wrecked home.
If it is a decent price, she will "take the money and run", accepting her dream home is gone.
The thought of waiting years to rebuild on the site does not appeal. "I'm 67 this year. Whowants to be stuffing around for the rest of your life waiting to get into your own home? All I'll beable to afford is an over-60s unit." She will still own the land, however, and could face costsassociated with fixing it. Preen has found the process infuriating, and is staggered that she stillhas to pay full insurance on the home. "There's a lack of communication, you don't get toldanything and you sit for hours on the phone. The day after the earthquake, someone said `theworst is yet to come'. I didn't think it could get any worse than the earthquake, but dealing withinsurance companies is bloody annoying. It is just sheer frustration, which turns to anger,which turns to tears." Next door the Pockson family is worrying about its health. A week beforeChristmas, Jeff and Lavina and their three children developed severe coughs, which theysuspect were caused by the silt they are constantly having to remove from their home. Theywere put on antibiotics and the youngest, eight-month-old Charlie, also required Ventolin and acourse of steroids. The family moved out of the house for a month after the quake, but decidedto move back because they couldn't afford mortgage and rental payments long-term. "It's notpretty any more, but it's liveable," Lavina says. Like their neighbours, they are waiting for adefinitive word from AMI as to whether their home will be demolished. They accept they willhave to rebuild on the same site, because with equity tied up in the land, they cannot afford tobuy elsewhere. Lavina says the children have shown signs of stress, but have been gettingbetter. She says living in Seabreeze Close is strange. "It's been a beautiful street in its time. It'ssad to look out at houses that were well groomed, people out with their lawnmowers andgardening at weekends, and all of a sudden it's silt and weeds and overgrown grass." THEREWERE signs last week that those in charge of the earthquake recovery are making moves toappease the growing anger among homeowners across the city. The Earthquake RecoveryCommission announced it will hire more staff, conceding there is a "gap" in its quake response.
Commission chairman Murray Sherwin says a project management team and communicationteam will oversee post-quake recovery, but Labour's earthquake recovery spokesman, ClaytonCosgrove, says that amounts to hiring a PR firm "to tell the world how wonderful thegovernment is". Brownlee hinted to residents at a public meeting in Kaiapoi that there will behelp for those whose insurance cover for temporary accommodation is set to run out on March4 after six months, but won't give details until this week. Meanwhile, the city council has Rebuild Christchurch
One brick at a time decided to hold fortnightly meetings on earthquake recovery as a compromise with councillorTim Carter, who had wanted a special committee. Dalziel is concerned that the poorcommunication means many residents misunderstand the recovery process and what it meansfor them, and for some, things will "turn to custard". "Some people who think their houses aregoing to be demolished and rebuilt are going to find out that their insurer thinks it's cheaper torepair, and they will be the only house in that street in that category – everything else will bedemolished around them." She says some homeowners don't understand the technical reportsreleased by the EQC. "A lot of people thought when the suburb-specific geotech reports cameout, they would tell them what would happen to their property, but they don't. They are reallydesigned for engineers and council officers, who will use them as a reflection of the state of theland in a particular suburb, rather than each individual section." Brownlee is calling forpatience. While many Seabreeze residents fear their properties will never sell, Brownlee takesthe opposite view. "Most properties at Seabreeze performed at a performance measure [duringthe quake] of zero to one – the remediation work that the government is funding will take thatup to four, five and above. In future those sections will be known to have been treated againstthe worst effects of lateral spreading, which I think will enhance the value." Although he cannotgive a timeframe, he believes once the civil works begin, values will return to the propertiesquickly and people will be able to make decisions "more speedily than the long time they'recurrently talking". He says while he sympathises with people like McConchie, there are risks inrushing ahead. "We had concerns that if people were just assessed, `you've got $40,000 worthof damage, here's the cheque', the temptation would be to get it done for around that price andpossibly less. The consequence of that could be you get all sorts of degradation of propertyover time. "The overall stipulation is `get it right'. It would have been easy to have said `OK, itwas a one in 500 year event, that gives you a mathematical probability of it not happening inthe next 50 years, so why don't we just tidy things up, sprinkle a bit of magic dust and go backto the way we were'. That would be unacceptable for the long-term life of the city and theindividual equity for people." image thanks to the press



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