6 Apr 2016

Red zone homes 'could have been saved'

10:30 am on 6 April 2016

Hundreds of homes demolished in Christchurch's red zone could have been saved, according to one of the country's largest house relocation companies.

About 7 percent of about 8000 houses handed over to the government have been picked up and moved in the five years since earthquakes shook the region.

According to the Reserve Bank roughly three-quarters of Canterbury houses were damaged in the earthquakes.

Demolition site Feb 2016

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

While many homes were demolished after the quake, figures from Land Information New Zealand show 561 Crown-owned homes have been picked up and moved.

The owner of Kings House Removals, Grant Willis, said many other homes in good condition were destroyed because of the land they were on.

"There's been too many good solid homes pushed over. Of course there's been a lot saved as well but there could have been a whole lot more. If we've got a shortage of well insulated late model-homes in New Zealand, why were we pushing them over?"

Relocation was now seriously being considered but that wasn't the case at the beginning of the rebuild, he said.

"We had to really push to get them to do it."

Initial damage inspectors didn't consider relocation as an option for homes on red zoned land and it took more than a year to get the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to relocate its first house, Mr Willis said.

"I had a couple of EQC guys when I was picking a house up, we were picking it up off a concrete slab putting a new wooden floor in it and taking it away, and they were coming in asking me what they should be looking for.

"This guy in particular was an Australian guy, he was a painter. He got brought over here to assess damaged houses. He was a painter decorator, so he knew nothing about the structural integrity of the houses."

The suburb of Brooklands had about 500 homes prior to the earthquakes, now about 20 remain with people living in them.

The suburb of Brooklands in 2014. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

The housing shortage that followed the quakes had helped increase Christchurch's property prices by more than 40 percent, according to the Reserve Bank, while the cost of renting a home had also increased significantly.

Five years later the Salvation Army still has a steady stream of people wanting help to find accommodation.

Its southern community ministry's secretary, Lindsay Andrews, said there was nothing put in place to replace the demolished homes, and many people couldn't afford newly built homes.

"Our clients are just completely unable to afford what would normally be a rental for a family. They just simply can't afford that cost so the fact that those houses immediately post quake were taken out of the housing market means that we've got a real severe deficit right now."

Last year the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimated a shortage of 8000 households in the region.

Damaged buildings are demolished in the "Red Zone" area in downtown Christchurch.

Damaged buildings are demolished in the "Red Zone" area in downtown Christchurch. Photo: AFP

Former Christchurch mayor and manager of the Community Housing trust, Garry Moore, said given a relocated home could be bought for a third of the price of a new home, it was a missed opportunity.

"We could've actually alleviated a lot of that rental pressure by using those houses."

People working in demolition told him it was breaking their hearts to smash the houses.

"I remember one guy saying to me 'I've just broken up a house that was two years old'. Now if you can't shift a house that's two years old there's something wrong with you."

The approach after the quake lacked long term and creative thinking and there should be lessons learned about what could have been done about affordable housing, he said.

A spokesperson for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority said in a statement CERA had been involved with people relocating red zone houses since 2011.

"Houses were relocated since clearance of the Crown-owned land began, and CERA staff involved in relocations always worked hard to provide as many homes and accommodate as many requests as possible.

"Relocation of dwellings was sometimes a cheaper option than buying a fixed home for people, and it also offered savings for taxpayers on demolition and disposal costs.

"The challenge was that only some houses were suitable for relocation, and not all property sections are suitable for relocated houses, especially in newer subdivisions."

But CERA said staff involved in relocations always worked hard to provide as many homes and accommodate as many requests as possible.

"As part of the Crown offer process, red zone property owners had the option of relocating their house through discussion with CERA under Option 1, or through their insurer if they decided to take Option 2.

"CERA also worked with agencies such as Housing New Zealand and the Department of Corrections on the refurbishment and relocation of red zone houses, and offered appropriate houses to the open market for relocation."

CERA said it made efforts to recycle as much as possible from houses set for demolition.

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