The Christchurch earthquakes have created a challenge which is unprecedented in this country (and probably very rare in the modern world). Large, densely populated areas are not safe to rebuild. Any government would have struggled with this.
National I think have done poorly so far. They appropriated an unnecessarily large chunk of power through CERA, then didn’t seem to do much with it. The emergency housing response was late (compared to a similar situation in Japan) and misguided (empty camper vans). The delay in getting information to affected residents has been too long, and mishandled by Gerry “blindingly obvious” Brownlee. Patience is not so easy to come by in a damp, freezing, damaged house with no functional plumbing.
But now it’s crunch time, and National could make good. If they get their response right, many in Christchurch will forgive them the delays. The stage show event for Key is today at 1:30, but substantial details have (as seems to be the norm these days) been released in advance. Favoured journo Duncan Garner reports:
Christchurch’s quake-damaged suburbs early details
Residents in Christchurch’s worst-hit suburbs will be told they can leave their homes tomorrow and the Government will pay them out. … The Government will formally name the worst hit suburbs as:
3 News understands 90 percent of the houses in Bexley will be demolished.
The Prime Minister was confident he could give those in the worst affected areas clarity, but some tomorrow may have to wait further for a decision. …
Those people covered by tomorrow’s announcement will be offered the choice to stay or leave their home. Choose to go and the Government will pay out those who wish to leave to the value of their house just before the September earthquake. Residents will have nine months to make a decision. … 3 News understands 5000 homes are covered by tomorrow’s announcement.
And the payouts will cost the Government hundreds of millions of dollars up front – insurance companies and EQC will then pay the Government directly.
OK, first the good. A lot of people covered by this deal are going to be relieved, and happy. It will seem like a lifeline in a storm. They will take the money, and find somewhere else to live. Good on them. Furthermore, the system could be (on detail so far) simple and effective. No mucking about for individual households with the nightmare of insurance companies. The offer appears to be a one stop shop, cash up front, no questions asked. Simple and effective (with the government picking up the insurance legwork). Bravo.
Now the bad. A lot of people covered by this deal are going to be disappointed, and angry. The cash on offer is based on the most recent government valuation, which is typically well below market value. Furthermore, the last valuation was conducted in 2007 – prices had increased tens of thousands by 2010. Some people will feel torn by the desire to get out of their shattered suburb, and their anger at an offer which they feel is less than their house is worth (one such example was interviewed on Campbell Live last night).
Now the ugly. There are many many details here and the devil is within them. My first thought is for the uninsured, and families who decide not to take the offer. What to do with the last one or two diehards in an empty street or suburb? Presumably services will never be restored. What then, for those that remain? My fear is that the government will consider that the rescue package discharges their obligations, and that the diehards will be left on their own, in terrible conditions. (Eventually the areas will be bulldozed, and turned in to parkland or similar – what then – forced evictions?) That isn’t right.
A second obvious issue is the lines on the map. As so far described the offer applies to specific suburbs. That’s easy to administer, but liquefaction knows no boundaries, and it will only be an approximate fit to where the help is truly needed. We may get situations where sound houses inside a suburb are offered the buy-out, while damaged ones just outside are not. Then there are the grey areas. Suburbs which have not been listed, but where many houses are affected. What happens to them?
Finally, the missing. What is announced so far is a response to the most pressing issue, but it exists in isolation. What is missing is the plan for Christchurch, or a proposal to rebuild new suburbs to the North or to the West. A vision for the future, or a chance to rebuild together, may have helped many families make the decision to stay in the City that they love. A city that will need them, when so many are choosing to leave.
We’ll have more information following the stage show at 1:30, but I suspect that after it we’ll find that there are still more questions than answers for many families. I’ve labelled this post “The Christchurch Solution – Part 1” because I suspect that it is an issue that will need to be revisited many times.
Be strong, Christchurch.
[Update: According to The Herald “Government offers to buy properties won’t be made for a couple of months”. Why? Why the delay, through the hard months of winter? This is going to cause yet more anger.]