Key agencies to discuss housing options for flooded Lismore | opinion

Cathy Adams
Updated November 22 2022 - 11:13am, first published November 18 2022 - 4:00pm

Councillors and politicians arguing over who was to blame for the housing crisis in Lismore nine months after the flood does little to help people who desperately need somewhere to live right now.

Leaders bicker, flooded residents just want a roof over their heads
Leaders bicker, flooded residents just want a roof over their heads

A councillor resolution to bring key agencies together to find a solution was a step in the right direction, but it offers no short term answers for approximately 450 people still in emergency housing.


Criticism has been levelled at Resilience NSW for not providing suitable short term housing options after a plan for a pod village for up to 200 people at Hepburn Park was rejected by the majority of Lismore councillors last week.

While it would have delivered a roof over the heads of up to 200 people, opponents said it was not the right kind of housing, nor in the right location.

The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation has also copped some criticism for being slow to offer long term housing solutions.

It is moving forward with its Resilient Homes Program, but it will take time for eligibility to be assessed. While a small number of homeowners may be contacted within the coming weeks, many may not hear from case managers until next year, and commencement of buybacks and other offers was not expected until February.

Cr Big Rob raised an urgency motion at the resumed council meeting on Tuesday night, requesting a meeting with Resilience NSW, the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation, and Landcom, to address the short and long term housing needs of the town.

Councillors agreed to hold a workshop to look at potential emergency and affordable housing sites - as identified in the Lismore Growth Management Strategy 2015-35, the Draft Growth and Realignment Strategy (excluding Lismore Golf Course), Crown and council owned mapping, and any privately owned land presented to council by landowners.

Cr Rob suggested land could be acquired by the NRRC from its $100 million land acquisition funding for use as both emergency housing, and long term affordable housing.

He slammed NSW Minister for Flooding Steph Cooke over blaming the council for people remaining displaced, saying it was her portfolio, containing Resilience NSW, that was to blame for failing to come up with suitable temporary housing options other than Hepburn Park.

He claimed council had been offered private land for use, but those options had not yet been presented to councillors.

Cr Rob said Resilience NSW was able to deal directly with those landowners, independently of council, to provide a pod village that could benefit the community "for years to come", not just the next two years, or at the expense of community groups.

"The blowback is incredible (on rejecting Hepburn Park option)," Cr Rob said. "There is a lack of understanding about who does what.... we look like the ogre here."

He listed emergency pod villages that had been set up in other LGAs independently of the council, and said the same could be done in Lismore.

General Manager John Walker has stated consistently there "is no other land" that has infrastructure in place to allow an emergency village to be constructed quickly.

Mr Walker said Resilience NSW was responsible for temporary housing, and the NRRC was responsible for long term housing. While consent authority lies with Lismore City Council at present, he said that may change in the future.

Cr Andrew Gordon said he "initially thought the intent was good", but after listening to the "narrative" in the room as the motion was discussed, questioned whether councillors had the ability to solve the issue due to in-fighting.

"We're incapable of solution. Quite frankly, we should just hand this over to Resilience NSW and NRRC and let them deal with it. This forum cannot provide direction or solution," Cr Gordon said.

But Cr Peter Colby disagreed, saying councillors were elected to lead the community, and it was "about time we stood up".

Councillors voted to hold a workshop prior to the December council meeting, inviting the relevant agencies to attend, with the view options could be presented and voted on at the December meeting, allowing the agencies to advance the plans over the Christmas break.

Cr Rob said the councillors urgently needed to consider the motion, and hoped solutions would be "closer to ready" by the February meeting.

For flood displaced people who say they desperately need housing now, it is further delay however in what has been a tough year.

Cathy Adams

Cathy Adams