A group of homeowners whose properties were ravaged by the 2018 catastrophic floods in Grand Forks, B.C., are demanding “fair value” in the recovery buy-out program.
In May 2018, spring thaws caused the Granby and Kettle rivers to burst their banks, devastating homes and businesses in the West Kootenay town of 4,000 people.
Flood waters gushed through Jennifer Houghton’s Johnston’s Flats home.
“Four feet of water flowed through my living room, my kitchen, my bedroom and basically it impacted by entire home,” she told Global News on Wednesday.
Nineteen months later, flood victims are still waiting for compensation.
In June, nearly $50 million was announced by the federal, provincial and municipal governments for flood mitigation projects and recovery efforts, including purchasing homes in flood-prone areas.
Impacted homeowners were shocked to learn the catch of the buy-out program is their properties would be appraised at post-flood values.
Houghton declined to share the pre and post-flood values determined for her own home but gave an example of another property worth $220,000 before the flood, now valued at $48,000.
“It’s putting us through a lot of hardship and strain. We are extremely stressed out, people are losing sleep over it, and the mental and emotional strain right now is enormous.”
“We are afraid, we are uncertain about our futures because none of us can afford to go out and buy a new place for $48,000.”
Keystone Appraisals was hired by the City of Grand Forks to determine the pre and post-flood real estate values of 139 properties in December 2018.
The report, obtained by Global News, was used in support of the city’s grant applications for flood recovery funding.
Appraisers determined that the loss in real estate value is +/- 37 per cent.
“The range in loss for individual homeowners was from 15 per cent-100 per cent depending on the unique circumstances of how properties have been flooded and how owners responded,” the report states.
The appraisal and consulting firm noted that the findings were preliminary and the company is not involved in providing real estate values in the buy-out program.
Flood victims are organizing a rally on the 2nd street bridge in Grand Forks on Nov. 15 in protest of the current buyout plan.
“Residents are asking the city to seek out ways to provide full replacement value for their homes; otherwise, they will not be able to find new homes,” Houghton said.
Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor said $12-$14 million is dedicated to the buyout program, which is $6.6 million shy of providing homeowners with compensation equivalent to pre-flood values.
Taylor said the city cannot afford to absorb the additional costs.
“Council’s position is it would put us too far into debt. We are already looking at defining where we are going to put our contribution of $3.5 million,” he told Global News.
“It’s been in front of the province and the feds ever since they announced they would be holding us to the current market value… we’ve always been asking for more,” Taylor said.
The mayor said the higher levels of government determined it will only provide what it calls “fair market value” for properties on the flood plain.
“Their pressures are to try and keep a lid on these situations that they feel will protect our country over a period of time as climate changes, water level changes, you can imagine that a major flood in the Lower Mainland could bankrupt the city and the province,” he said.
“The government is not the insurance company for the people in that we can’t guarantee we can make people whole. That’s the reality.”
Houghton said the city decided to move forward with the buy-out program and city hall should be held responsible for getting homeowners’ pre-flood appraisals.
“The city and the boundary flood recovery team are the ones who are responsible for making the decision that these 80 homes are going to be wiped out,” she said. “We are being sacrificed, they have made that decision that we will be sacrificed so the rest of the city can be protected with flood mitigation structures.”
Coming up with solutions
Taylor said the city is doing everything it can to support flood victims, including looking at in-kind options like providing city-owned land for new homes to be built on.
The land swap plan was recently approved by city council and it’s in the process of hiring a third-party acquisition team to provide assessments and appraisals of impacted homes.
“We are hoping that it does have a level of independence where we can establish some trust that we are doing the appraisal in a very fair fashion,” Taylor said.
However, Houghton said flood victims who are paying two mortgages while they wait in limbo for compensation are not in favour of the initiative.
“We did an informal survey of the 50 people who were at our meeting at the majority just want the cash,” she said.
Taylor said he understands residents’ frustrations and the flood fallout has been emotionally taxing on everyone, including city officials.
Choking back tears, Taylor told Global News the animosity has tested the morale relationship between the city and the residents of North Ruckle.
“It’s an area where it will be next to impossible to live, and to some extent, there will be dangers because it’s an area that will flood. For their own good we are moving people out and closing it down but there is an element of good for the whole Grand Forks community,” he said.