Business Continuity and Disaster Planning for Housing Providers Professional Practice Seminar report

Aug 1, 2014 | Events

Christchurch’s transitional cathedral marked a poignant and uplifting venue for the powhiri at the start of this thought-provoking seminar on Monday 28 July 2014. In his welcome, the kaumatua spoke of the city’s most recent loss – Christchurch City’s Cathedral Dean Lynda Patterson who died on 21 July 2014. Her death at the age of 40 is regarded as a ‘big loss, a tragic loss’ for the wider community. She was regarded as a taonga (treasure), a galvaniser and a person who brought people together.

Something she said about the Christchurch community resonated with me throughout the seminar and the city tour on Tuesday morning. She spoke of the “huge well of talent, much of it self-effacing, and the commitment to quietly get on and get things done, with no great self-promotion.”

We heard from New Zealanders and Australians faced with circumstances where there had been no time to plan, of having to throw away the plan and think on your feet, of staff supporting tenants while personally experiencing the disaster, of effective problem-solving and the limbo in which many people still find themselves. Speakers generously shared their experiences, their learning and their practical tips such as always having cash and paper copies of contact information.

Christchurch City Council and HNZC staff explained and showed us the practicalities and challenges of continuing to offer a high quality service for their tenants after losing a significant number of properties as result of the quakes and of subsequent engineering reports.

The seminar provided a timely reminder of the ongoing challenges that Christchurch faces.

Christchurch City Council is New Zealand’s second largest social housing landlord with 2649 units and has been providing affordable social housing since 1938.

Pre-earthquake, they prided themselves on this portfolio being self-funding /rates neutral.

Post-quake, 442 units are no longer available:

  • 156 units were immediately closed
  • 144 units failed the Detailed Engineering Evaluation (DEE) assessments
  • 113 units closed due to being in the red zone
  • 29 units being used as temporary accommodation for those tenants whose homes are being repaired

City Housing is unable to build new homes until its insurance claims are resolved.

Pre-earthquake HNZC owned or managed 6,127 houses across Christchurch and Kaiapoi.

Post-quake:

  • 95% of their properties were damaged, more than 350 beyond repair
  • 215 properties are in the red zone
  • 600 households had to be moved to safer accommodation
  • 550 property repairs will be completed by December 2015

They are currently building 200 new homes primarily as medium density, and where possible, mixed tenure developments. Re-building offers its own challenges with foundations needing to be 15m deep for some properties. By December 2015, they aim to have built a total of 700 new homes.

What shone through was the commitment to provide the best quality service possible to their tenants. Organisations spoke of staff providing practical and emotional support for those moving out of their homes and of going the extra mile to make the process as straightforward as they possibly could. Annette Sutherland from Comcare Trust’s advice on how to support staff also struck a particularly strong chord with the audience.

Personal stories from tenants renting in the private sector marked a sombre end to the first day – their situations graphically illustrating the human context to the shortage and cost of rental properties in Christchurch and to the increasing number of homeless people.

The city tour the next day gave us an insight into the everyday challenges faced by Christchurch residents with unscheduled road closures, potholes and bumpy roads everywhere we went. The quality of the Rangers Park temporary housing development wowed us all as did the explanation of a requirement for 15m deep foundations for new housing.

A remarkable two days: ones in which we all discovered like Lynda the “huge well of talent, much of it self-effacing, and the commitment to quietly get on and get things done, with no great self-promotion.”

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