Originally published by The Canberra Times, 5th September 2015 online
Government pays up for nightmare street of asbestos homes in Kambah.
Residents of Kambah homes made almost entirely from asbestos have agreed to sell to the ACT government and will be out of the toxic properties before Christmas.
The decision to pay out owners and demolish the six homes on the same street comes after the media revealed the frightening situation of the residents, who were unknowingly placed at risk by the most mundane of home maintenance or renovations.
Built by the National Capital Development Commission as experimental modular houses in the early 1970s and initially used for public housing, the ACT authorities had refused to help the owners before Katy Gallagher committed to take action in October last year.
Jay Kelly, 32, left his home of nine years before the June 30 offer deadline revealed by the Land Development Agency this week, saying despite some relief he was unhappy with the $406,000 payment and would likely not buy again in Canberra.
“Tell me where I can find a 700-square-metre, three-bedroom block in Canberra for $406,000?” he said.
Mr Kelly paid $357,500 for the house in 2009, and a private valuation for a bank in February last year said it was worth $413,000, with the potential of up to $446,000 on the then market.
Despite later spending $20,000 on renovations, two government-funded valuations in autumn this year were split in the middle to provide the $406,000 figure (which includes $1,000 for legal costs).
Land Development Agency chief executive David Dawes said all six owners had taken up the offers, which included the waiving of stamp duty to a maximum of the median price for Kambah houses.
“Once the homes have been vacated, expected by mid-December 2015, they will be demolished and the asbestos disposed of safely,” he said.
Last October, then chief minister Katy Gallagher said the government would have a solution for the residents that would “have a similar outcome” to the Mr Fluffy buyback and demolition process. A spokesman for Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that, like the Mr Fluffy offers, the homes were valued as if they did not contain asbestos.
Asbestos is found in thousands of homes throughout the ACT built before 1985, but these six in Kambah consist almost entirely of the toxic substance.
Their residents cannot change a light fitting, put in a towel rail, hang a picture or stop the gradual wear and tear of the buildings without releasing deadly asbestos fibres. Mr Kelly was in the middle of renovating his home, and had already done sanding, when he was first warned about the asbestos scale. The discovery led to the breakdown of a relationship, with his then partner not willing to let her children live at the home.
The spokesman for the chief minister said the agency was yet to make a decision on what they would do with the blocks.
Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said he was glad the government had responded to calls from the Liberals, the community and the media to support the Kambah six homeowners. “I am however open to discussing each owners’ individual circumstances with them,” he said.
Offer releases pressure valve for young homeowner
Daniel Gray was 21 when he bought his first home in Kambah, and he pumped his savings into renovations.
More than a year after a private sale fell through because of the surprise asbestos issue, the now 28-year-old said he got out of the nightmare property as soon as he could.
“Obviously the money could have been a tiny bit better, but it could have gone the other way as well,” he said.
“It was one less burden to think about. There’s been a lot of sleepless nights – considering I actually renovated the house, I exposed myself to the material without knowing.”
He said he preferred not to dwell on the past and had now begun renovating a new home bought with a “very high mortgage”.
“It was a big white elephant to buy and to waste seven years of my life with, but I’m lucky I’m young enough to move on,” he said.
He thanked Asbestos Response Taskforce head Andrew Kefford, ACT Liberals leader Jeremy Hanson and the media for pushing for the buyouts.
1970s: National Capital Development Commission builds experimental modular houses almost entirely of bonded asbestos. Used for public housing.
1990s: At least five of the properties are sold.
2014: As the Mr Fluffy campaign unites thousands, many of the Kambah street’s residents learn for the first time what their homes are made of.
October 2014: Chief Minister Gallagher announces Mr Fluffy buyback scheme, says Kambah six would be handled separately but with “similar outcome”.
June 2015: Owners receive and accept government offers.
December 2015: All owners expected to have vacated.