Montreal

Quebec hopes to nudge homeowners out of flood zones with disaster relief program

A new disaster relief program, announced Monday by the Quebec government, will set hard caps on the amount of compensation available to homeowners in flood zones, with the goal of encouraging them to move elsewhere.

Public security says new program will involve less paperwork, speed up compensation

The new compensation measures, announced Monday, respond to complaints the government was slow to provide financial help following flooding in 2017. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A new disaster relief program, announced Monday by the Quebec government, will set hard caps on the amount of compensation available to homeowners in flood zones, with the goal of encouraging them to move elsewhere.

Under the new program, once damages exceed 50 per cent of a home's value, or reach $100,000, homeowners in flood zones will get money to cover relocation costs.

They also have the choice of putting that money toward repairing their home, but that's the last bit of financial help their property will receive from the government.

The compensation threshold for homes in flood-prone areas will be cumulative — the figure will added to after each flood — and applies to the home, not the homeowner. 

"We want to avoid people benefiting, year after year, from financial help without a maximum amount," Quebec's public security minister, Geneviève Guilbault, said at a news conference in Hudson, Que.  

"With this new measure, when the maximum is reached, the person will be faced with a choice: take the last cheque and no longer be compensated or benefit from the other options we're offering."

One of the goals of the new measures is to encourage homeowners to move out of flood zones. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Less paperwork, fewer delays

The disaster relief program announced Monday aims to streamline the claims process for disaster victims and cut the amount of paperwork necessary to qualify for government help.

Among the new features (details in French on the government's website):

  • Evacuees will get $20 per day for housing and supplies, if forced out of their homes for more than four days. That figure could increase to $1,000 per month if major repairs are needed.  
  • During a natural disaster, homeowners will get $125 per day (renters get $75 per day) to install preventative measures, up to a maximum of $5,000. No paperwork necessary.
  • The government will cover up to $1,000 toward moving or storage costs. 

The reforms are mainly administrative. Guilbault said the new program will not cost the government any more than the existing programs.

But implementing a new compensation process for disaster victims was a priority for the Coalition Avenir Québec government.

Within a few weeks of his election win, Premier François Legault visited areas in Gatineau that were badly damaged in September by a series of tornados.

Legault promised at the time to reform Quebec's aid packages for disaster victims. The previous programs were widely criticized after the 2017 flooding in the West Island. Many homeowners complained about lengthy delays and complicated bureaucracy.

'Devil in the details'

In Hudson, which was among the hardest hit areas in 2017, Guilbault's announcement was met with cautious optimism. 

Mayor Jamie Nicholls welcomed the efforts to encourage people to move away from flood zones. But he wanted more details about how the new claims process will work.

"The devil will be in the details," he said. 

Marie Savaria, a Hudson resident, was among those who found the government's claims process overly complicated when her basement flooded two years ago.

'It was an invoice for this and an invoice for that,' Hudson resident Marie Savaria said of the previous claims process. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

"It was an invoice for this and an invoice for that," she said from her porch overlooking Rousseau Street, and just beyond it, the Ottawa River.  

Savaria's home is in a flood zone. She has already started preparing for the higher water levels that accompany the spring melt. But the new measures announced Monday won't entice her to move. 

She said she's willing to risk another flood, and costly damages, if it means staying in a home that's been in her family since 1976.

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