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Buy-outs underway in flood-struck Shore suburbs

Flagstaff Team

The first two flooded-home buy-outs have been settled in hard-hit Wairau Valley catchment areas this month, and more offers are being considered by residents.
Milford has 14 dwellings assessed as meeting the ‘Category 3’ buy-out threshold, the most of any suburbs in the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board (DTLB) area.
Sunnynook has four homes and Forrest Hill one meeting the threshold due to damage suffered in the Auckland Anniversary floods of 27 January 2023.
Ten of the 18 Category 3 homes in the area had had their valuations completed by late April, including the two for which owners have since accepted buy-out offers from Auckland Council.
A Sunnynook woman whose home was flooded and left uninhabitable for many months said she had been relieved to get a Category 3 assessment.
A valuation was expected within the next two weeks under a process she said had started slowly but was now moving efficiently
Of 240 homes registered for assessment in the DTLB area, 44 have been categorised so far, said Nick Vigar, head of planning for Auckland Council arm Healthy Waters.
Of these, 25 homes were put in Category 1, meaning they were not considered of such risk to life in future floods or slips as to trigger a buy-out offer.
Vigar said the properties assessed to date had been those in more clear-cut situations. The focus now was on the more difficult cases, as well as many new sign-ups this year.
Applications for assessment can be made until the end of September. All those made in 2023 should be completed by mid-year, Vigar said.
“Given the level of flooding and impact in the Nile Rd area in Milford, we have also been looking into community infrastructure solutions at the Wairau catchment level.
“Many homes awaiting categorisations here rely on this outcome, so we are working to get clarity as fast as we can, including exploring options with the government.”
Vigar said most of the more complex cases have had a ‘desktop’ assessment, and a site assessment where needed. Some needed flooding and geotechnical assessments. “For some, we are confirming whether there are safe and viable mitigation options at the property, requiring careful technical consideration.”
Under two assessment categories (2C and 2P), the council or property owner becomes responsible for risk remediation. After satisfactory completion of this, mention of the issue will be removed from council files. No such assessments have been issued in the local-board area to date.
DTLB chair Toni van Tonder said she was pleased homeowners were getting answers from council and that two buyout offers have been accepted. “This gives me heart that the buy-out process is working.”
The Observer knows of a number of property owners unsure of their next steps. Some have chosen not to seek buyouts, either staying on or seeking to sell their homes.

Board member Mel Powell said flooded homes had been patched up and re-let or put on the market. “They’re saying buyer beware, and it’s all on you, but if you’re new to New Zealand or desperate for housing…”

A number of homes in flood-plain areas have been repaired and on-sold or rented out. A handful of homeowners in clifftop areas have applied for planning consent to shore up unstable land.
Van Tonder said the board was keen to hear from Healthy Waters about proposed mitigation works in the area. Next steps would come after the council’s 10-year budget was settled.
The board was seeking funding to support community initiatives to help people prepare and respond to emergencies. Emergency Plans were being worked on with AEM.
It is likely that after homes on bought-out Category 3 properties are demolished or removed, the sites will be used for stormwater improvements or become council reserve land.
Across the city, 1273 properties had been assessed by 30 April, with 401 found to qualify for buy-outs and 823 pushed out to Category 1. A further 4 were put in Category 2c and 45 in Category 2P. This is from a pool of 7389 initially affected properties, which yielded 2803 homeowners seeking categorisation. Of 185 buyout offers made so far, 87 have been accepted and 55 settled.
Vigar said budgets had been boosted to contract more assessors locally and in Australia.
DTLB member Mel Powell, who was active in community flood response, said she was concerned council information did not capture who had been most impacted.
“What I realised is when I met the people from flats in Milford and people in Sunnynook is they’re old, disabled, vulnerable – and they’re invisible in the data.”
Such people would find relocating difficult and were often not in a good financial position or able to advocate for themselves. Some were nervous about working with the council, although its navigators, a team that helped people work through the assessment process, had helped with this.
Powell said a number of flooded homes had been patched up and re-let or put on the market. “They’re saying buyer beware, and it’s all on you, but if you’re new to New Zealand or desperate for housing…”
She worried nothing substantial had yet occurred to reduce the risk of future flooding.
“We live in a flood plain, it’s a great place to live, we just need to adapt our housing.”
Yet intensification was continuing ahead of infrastructure improvements.
Powell is also frustrated that as the board member, who with chair van Tonder, gives feedback to planning applications, decisions are not notified back to them unless they chase up planners, even when they flag concerns about some locations.
“It’s like nothing happened, it’s business as usual.”

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