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The contents of flooded homes sit on the street in downtown Princeton, B.C., on Dec. 3. Many parts of the province were hit with heavy floods and mudslides.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

For the second time in a month, Jared Thomas is seeing mounds of dirty basement belongings and chunks of drywall and other construction material piled high on his block in Merritt, B.C. – a stark reminder of the many lives still upended after the Coldwater River flooded.

Mr. Thomas, a realtor, is trying to figure out what to do with his backyard gazebo that was sheared off its footing by the flood waters and set down on the side of his house, where it now sits cemented in a thick layer of frozen mud.

But he counts himself lucky because the damage to his family’s house was relatively minimal owing to them having a small crawl space below ground. Every other home on his street had a basement that was inundated with filthy water.

“Looking back now, it’s certainly something we’re glad we don’t have,” he told The Globe and Mail earlier this month.

Nearby, in the older Collettville neighbourhood, so many rental apartment buildings and older houses remain uninhabitable that Mayor Linda Brown says her municipality is setting up portables so the displaced can winter in a camp akin to those at the oil sands. Princeton, like Merritt just down the highway, is also applying for provincial and federal assistance to set up a similar camp for 34 of the more than 100 people pushed out of their homes by the floods of last month.

These two communities were already struggling to accommodate a total of roughly 10,000 people before last month’s storm dropped a month’s worth of rain in a span of two days. There were zero rental vacancies and locals were being priced out by newcomers fleeing the supercharged Metro Vancouver market in recent years.

Now, the catastrophic flooding that has further exacerbated the housing crises in B.C.’s Southern Interior offers a warning of how climate change will make life more unaffordable in communities on Canada’s West Coast.

Just more than 14,800 people were forced to flee their homes during the floods, but the vast majority, such as Mr. Thomas and his neighbours, have returned to continue patching together their lives.

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne said at least 100 people remain displaced long-term and are currently staying with friends or are outside of town. He said the floods destroyed enough housing stock to raise rents in his community of nearly 3,000 people. He said a recent online post sparked disbelief when the landlord upped the rent they were asking for on a two-bedroom unit from $1,500 to $1,800.

Mr. Coyne said his municipal government is still awaiting funding from the province and federal government to secure a $500,000 contract with a company that has offered to truck in a camp to house 34 people for six months on a patch of industrial land owned by the municipality.

He says he has no idea where the rest of the displaced people will stay, but his town is in talks with developers to create more crucial rental housing as early as next fall.

“If this is what the face of climate change looks like, then we gotta call it what it is: They are climate-change refugees right now – they don’t have a place to go,” he said. “If this is climate change, then we need more involvement from the federal government to help mitigate the issues around what we’re dealing with.”

Princeton has already spent more than $10-million replacing five of its six water mains, the pumps in its sewage plant and repairing its dikes after the disaster, Mr. Coyne said. Even after the province covers 80 per cent of these costs, he says, his municipality is “still on the hook for $2-million” – a sum close to the nearly $3-million in taxes it collects in a year.

“Unless we get federal assistance we’re looking at a 67.5-per-cent property tax increase to pay the bills,” Mr. Coyne said. “There’s no way a town a size of ours can afford to do this on our own.”

At a Dec. 15 flood briefing, provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth touted Ottawa’s announcement of $5-billion in recovery aid to B.C. But, he told reporters, he said it is still too early to gauge how much of this money should go to repairing or replacing housing because rapid damage assessments were still ongoing.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates 6,000 residential property claims are expected to be handled in the wake of the floods, which the agency is calling the most costly natural disaster in the province’s history. But the $450-million in insured damages estimated by the bureau reflects only a small portion of the total price tag, in part because many residents affected were in high-risk flood areas and floodplains where insurance coverage is not available.

Merritt Mayor Linda Brown said authorities are still tallying how many residents remain displaced. She estimates about 50 homes, some with illegal secondary suites, will never be repaired.

“The water went right through and it’s been a month – it’s been harsh weather,” she said of the state of these homes.

By mid-January, a camp somewhere outside the worst-hit zone of the city will start offering a roof over some of these people’s heads, Ms. Brown said. Merritt is also searching for nearby Crown land to build longer-term housing in the new year.

A month after an atmospheric river of subtropical air hit Southern B.C., Emergency Management BC says 41 homes in the Southern Interior region so far remain tagged “red” and unsafe to enter. These homes are either still flooded with water or need structural repairs.

A further 662 are “yellow” buildings that still have partial damage and might be able to house people again, though further bad weather poses risk to these structures. People have been able to return to 850 homes after evacuating, according to a statement from Emergency Management BC.

Penny Gurstein, director of the University of B.C.’s Housing Research Collaborative, said this summer’s heat dome, which killed nearly 600 people, and the recent flooding, which killed at least four people, prove that all levels of governments need to link their plans for affordable housing to climate change because the poorest people often live in the most vulnerable places.

“We now have to be looking at the example of New Orleans, where the hardest-hit people were hit where the dikes were likely to fail,” Dr. Gurstein said.

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