Residents push Grand Forks council to support with flood buyouts

Staff estimate a $6.6 million difference between pre and post-flood value for Grand Forks buyouts

Grand Forks residents subject to property buyouts are pushing the city government to stand up for pre-flood payments for their land, after it was determined that many homeowners would not be receiving enough compensation to move and establish themselves within the city as the funding stands right now. The buyout plan aims to restore a floodplain in the area and reduce the impacts of future flooding events on the city.

“It’s not a kindness to us,” said affected resident Nora Curiston at a community meeting last week about the buyout plan, “they need the property.” Curiston and her neighbours organized a community meeting on July 11 in order to clarify some questions that people being bought out of their properties had and to propose new avenues to follow in order to get a more fair deal under the city’s flood mitigation plan. She also emphasized the need to work for a fair deal for residents.

“We’ve heard lots of talk about this being a precedent, this is a brand new situation,” Curiston said.

“If this is something that is going to be happening around the province and around the country, then I think it behooves us all to make sure it’s a really good precedent and that all of these projects aren’t to benefit some future citizen on the backs of existing citizens.”

Based on the best available property valuations to the city right now, “the bottom line is that half of the households would receive less than $100,000 for their property,” a city council request for decision for July 15 reads, noting that 24 households would get under $60,000, based on the current market values of their properties.

Estimated buyout prices for flood-affected properties in Grand Forks range from $20,000 to $438,000, according to the city document. Even greater than the spread between top and bottom in the purchase range, though, is the discrepancy between the pre and post-flood value for all properties combined: they are estimated to have lost a total of $6.6 million in last year’s disaster.

According to the city’s own estimates, the average loss for property owners subject to buyouts sits at $79,000 per land holding. The median loss sits roughly $10,000 lower at $68,400. A map of all properties affected is available on the Boundary Flood Recovery website.

“Receiving this amount of compensation would not enable property owners to replace their dwelling with something similar in the area and in many cases is less than what is owed on a mortgage,” the July 15 agenda reads.

Though residents were never guaranteed to be bought out at pre-flood values in Grand Forks when they voted overwhelmingly in favour of the buyout program, they were told by the city that their council representatives were pushing hard to secure a fair deal. While the province didn’t have a clear and absolute position on pre versus post-event compensation, the federal government’s policy dictates that properties would only be purchased at a post-event price.

In lieu of that, however, other provinces that have experienced natural disasters have opted to step in to ensure pre-flood compensation.

In New Brunswick this year, the provincial government offered buyouts to properties “where structural damages [exceeded] 80 per cent of the appraised value of the property.” There, the province offered “fair market value based on a [pre-flood] real estate appraisal” or a property tax assessment.

Grand Forks Mayor Brian Taylor suggested that provincial and federal governments “are getting nervous about how far out on a limb to go to set precedent,” noting that situations like what happened to Grand Forks last May are bound to occur more often in other places across the country.

“I hope they look at it and see that we’re doing our very best and [maybe they can help us],” said Mayor Brian Taylor at a July 15 committee of the whole meeting. Coun. Neil Krog also told the committee that “we are going to ask those questions” about why B.C. is not offering pre-flood values to property owners, where other provinces like New Brunswick and Manitoba were able to offer the higher values to their residents after flood disasters.

“This does not look like something that the province and the feds would agree to, but would support us in using our resources,” Taylor said.

For her part, Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson told the Gazette Monday that she is arranging a meeting with B.C. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth this summer to push the government for the extra $6.6 million needed to top up the property buyout values.

In the meantime, council is looking at how the city can support people who may be left well short of their pre-flood asset values, or stuck with uncertainty about where they can afford to move after being bought out.

One option is for city staff to triage cases to determine what sort of in-kind supports could be offered to different property owners.

The request for decision suggests that a household with under $100,000 in assets and under $3,000 in total income could be offered the most in terms of in-kind support from the city, beyond the money allocated for buyouts.

Reserving spaces at the 19th Street affordable housing complex is one avenue being considered by the city for some residents. Other options include encouraging the construction of more rental units in the city through tax incentives, offering city land and subsidizing moving costs for manufactured and mobile homes that can be relocated, and creating a land co-op to cut up-front costs for people forced to move.

Because the city expected to hear about the provincial and federal grants by the end of May, it had crafted a rollout plan that would have started as early as July. However, the funding announcement came nearly a month later than anticipated, knocking home appraisals and actual buyout offers into the fall.

The Boundary Flood Recovery team will now begin holding small-group meetings with affected property owners through July and August in order to determine how to proceed with the rollout of the buyout program. The current meeting schedule runs from July 23 to Aug. 2 and covers affordable rental options, moving houses, acquiring land and information about co-op, condo and townhouse development ideas. Attendance is restricted to property owners who received a buyout notice in the mail, who can call 250-442-8266 or email to sign up for a meeting. Detailed information on meeting times is available on page A13 of the July 17 Grand Forks Gazette.

In the meantime, Curiston said, just because the process is moving forward, it should not preclude the city, province and federal governments from looking at ways to make the strategy better or looking for more funding through tax rate changes or amendments to existing expropriation legislation.

“This is to create a wonderful new city into the future and I don’t really know why we couldn’t look at the numbers, at least,” Curiston said.

“There are those of us that are unhappy to leave, but at least we can leave with some dignity and grace and not feel like we’re chucked under the bus.”

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