johnThis week, a letter penned by John Patterson QSM and supported by members of the Older Generation Forum has been making its way around both resident and leadership recovery circles. Official responses received so far from the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) and Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel can be read in the next post.

The letter says the rebuild is too slow; ICNZ says it is going as fast as can be expected. John asks, ‘where is the master plan for the residential rebuild/repair?’ and the Mayor has directed him to something that looks like it could be a great idea but not so relevant for the elderly stuck homeowners.

John’s letter, in a nutshell, could be read as asking, “Who cares enough about the elderly to show that they are being prioritised? Who is proving through their actions that they understand and want to help elderly who are suffering? Who is maintaining connections with elderly people caught in this mess? This post earthquake time of waiting and waiting is horrendously hard and sad. It is also horrendously confusing and very unfair.

We read the responses from ICNZ and the Mayor and we know that what they are saying stacks up. There are working parties and pilots and programmes looking at addressing serious issues for the elderly and the rebuilds and repairs are happening at a greater rate now than ever before. Like John, we participate in a lot of meetings where we hear the concern for the elderly and the conversations about things that can be done to support them as much as possible. But as John says, there is a lot of talk and a lot of meetings, but is any of it actually changing the harsh reality elderly residents continue to face? John is still asking to be told what is happening: “Where is the master plan for the residential rebuild/repair? Where is the coordination?”

The way this recovery has played out for the elderly is a shameful thing. They were not identified early enough. They were not visited regularly enough. The fact that they have less time to be patient has not been considered enough. There has been no master plan written to ensure they know we all care enough to want to make their waiting a little less horrendous. They deserve an apology. They also deserve action.

Is it too much to expect that every homeowner over 70 has their claim assessed to see if there are particular roadblocks preventing fast progress? Can the whereabouts of these homeowners be shared with the support services who can knock on doors and have a caring cuppa and conversation? Is it so hard to make an action plan for those who are finding the housing and financial aspects of things stressful? Is it too much to expect that those who ‘call the shots in our city’ listen to the underlying message in John’s letter and have an honest conversation?

John says it best when he writes:

“So please, if there is a plan share it with us so that people living in the affected suburbs know what it is. If we could see the plan we would breathe a lot easier and it would ease the stress we are all going through. Tell us the good, the bad and the ugly so that we know what is going on, what the challenges are and what you are doing to sort it.”

You can read the full letter below and if you have feedback about how our struggling elderly citizens can be assisted in practical ways, we are happy to gather it in the comments section below and pass it on to the appropriate people.

November 2014

Dear Minister Gerry Brownlee , Roger Sutton, Mayor Lianne Dalziel, Ian Simpson CEO EQC, Tim Grafton CEO of the Insurance Council, Insurers and all those who call the shots in our city:

During 2012 we had a series of forums for the Older Generation to meet some of the movers and shakers from CERA Insurers, EQC and the CCC. We called these meetings because it was becoming increasingly clear that if someone did know what was going on, they certainly weren’t telling us. Over 400 people turned up at the first meeting where we were told we had to be patient and we will all get through this in time. Unfortunately time is the one thing that is not on us older folk’s side. If we had a forum today, we would be saying that for so many of us nothing has changed since that meeting, except it’s got more stressful and we’re three years older.

Time has run out for some of the people who attended that first forum. They are no longer here to see their houses rebuilt or repaired. They died.

I know of an elderly couple who have been waiting four years for their house to be rebuilt. Their house has just been finished and they have it up for sale as they have now moved into a retirement home. Four years is a hell of a long time to wait if you’re in your 70s or 80s.

Over the last few years God only knows how many meetings I have attended with insurance people, EQC, Council, CERA and community groups. I have a computer full of reports, minutes, statistics, projections, figures, graphs, promises etc. etc. But none of this has answered the questions raised at that first forum – what is the plan to rebuild/repair our homes and our lives? Far too many people are still waiting for their house to be rebuilt or repaired, as well as their neighbourhoods, their roads, their drains and sewers. For us older people, time is running out.

I’m 78 years old. I spent most of my working life in the construction industry, both here and overseas and I have been wondering why it is taking twice as long to build a house now, sometimes more, than it used to. We used to price a three-bedroom house on a time frame of 400 hours to 600 hours (10 to 15 weeks) depending on the size of the house and the type of the section. And those were the days when everything was made on the job: dug out the foundations with shovels, mixed the concrete on site, nailed up the frames and pitched the roof.

Now everything comes ready-made, even the concrete and all done by machines. All they do now is set up the ready-made frames and fix the ready-made trusses. Everything is prefabricated. Even the door-frames come ready-made with the doors hung and all the doors handles and latches fitted. Yet despite this it is taking six months or more to build a house. It is also often taking 18 months and over to get to the building consent stage. That is just ridiculous!

It is the same with repairs. Most of the easy repairs have been done. Now they are working on the difficult repairs.

Many of these are taking longer than building a new house. Because of this very long time frame some people are running out of their accommodation allowance. Some of the rental agents are asking retired people to show them evidence that they can carry on paying the rent if their accommodation allowance does run out. If you can’t show this then you won’t get the house. This is happening here and now in Christchurch to our older folk!

If you need to extend your tenancy agreement there could be a charge but when the builder can’t give you a completion date and stick to it, how can you give a definite time to the rental agent? All this adds to the stress people have been going through for the past four years. And I can tell you from the number of calls I get every day that it’s getting worse.

This stress is one the main causes of the increase in mental health problems which can lead onto stress related physical health problems. People just feel they have been ground down and they can’t take much more. We have a new ailment called red zone envy, the red zoners are seen as the lucky people. And be clear about this, it’s not just the old folk!

You see we know the cause of these problems and we know the cure – we have to speed up the building process and give people their lives back. That sounds easy and in fact it is easy if the people leading the rebuild have the will to do it.

In all the years I have been in the industry I have never seen such a chaotic mess as I have been observing over the past few years. There is no citywide planning. We have different insurance companies working with different PMOs working with different builders working with different sub contractors. We have men and machines criss-crossing back and forward all over the city the cost of which must be enormous both in time and money.

If you walk past a building site regularly you will find that there are more days when no one is working there than days when people are. Remember people are living in temporary accommodation and spending their accommodation allowance while this is going on.

How on earth can builders plan their work and carry it out effectively and efficiently in the situation we now have here in Christchurch?

Not enough building inspectors, not enough skilled labour. According to the Press the Council is advertising for more building inspectors. That’s good news but I would have thought that this would have been sorted long before this. Who is responsible for recruiting the skilled labour force? Does anyone really know how many workers we need to carry out this rebuild? How many do we need for the CBD and how many for the residential rebuild/repair? How do you decide which houses will be repaired or rebuilt next?

So the question I am asking once again of you who are driving our recovery: Where is the master plan for the residential rebuild/repair?

I have been asking this question for the last three years because if we’re going to keep on going in this way, families, old and young are going to continue to suffer unnecessarily. So please, if there is a plan share it with us so that people living in the affected suburbs know what it is. If we could see the plan we would breathe a lot easier and it would ease the stress we are all going through. Tell us the good, the bad and the ugly so that we know what is going on, what the challenges are and what you are doing to sort it.

We shouldn’t need another Older Generations Forum, what we do need is an Earthquake Recovery Forum.

We need all the players to come together, Insurers, EQC, PMOs, builders, suppliers, CERA, SCIRT and the City Council for the purpose of finding how to speed up the building process. For each week you take off the time frame it would have huge benefits for the people you are contracted to serve.

You could do this by identifying the roadblocks that causes the delays and then find the solutions to get through them. This can only happen with all the players working together and organising together. Building is a team sport and we have the farcical situation where the members of the team carrying out the actual work on site don’t know each other. Changes have to be made. We are tired of all the uncertainties.

We are not asking for the impossible. If you just brought the building time back to what it used to be it would be a big improvement.

This is the time for the government in the shape of CERA, together with the Council and the insurers to step up and show us how you are working together to speed up the process and make sure that we can all move into our new rebuilt or repaired home and enjoy it before we die!

Yours in hope

John Patterson QSM
Older Generations Forum

Supported by the Older generation Forum Committee:

Betty Chapman
Bruce Cameron
Dave Wilkinson
Janet Burton
Jim Downie
Paddy Brandon
Pat Penrose
Peter Leversedge
Rev Peter Beck
Garry Moore