After fire, flood and the death of her father, Ann Woodward thought rebuilding on a family block at Wallsend would help change her family's fortunes.
But a Newcastle City Council flood plan rendered part of the site worthless, and now the council refuses to waive a $2000-a-year rates bill that Ms Woodward and her mother Doreen Clements say they cannot afford to pay.
"I don't have enough money to bury myself," Ms Clements told the Newcastle Herald last week.
The site, a former panelbeating business spread over three separate lots in Tyrrell Street, has been administered by a family trust since the death of Ms Woodward's father.
The business burned to the ground in 2005, two years before the Pasha Bulker flood that surged through and devastated the Wallsend town centre.
The council's response to the flood was to move the goalposts for new development in Wallsend.
Almost half the commercial centre was deemed to be "floodway", where destroyed or damaged buildings can be rebuilt, but any new development is prohibited.
Ms Woodward and Ms Clements lodged a development plan in 2008, and were told the complexities of the flood plan would only allow them to build on the two lots farthest from the stormwater canal.
A council spokeswoman said the situation was made clear to the family when the development proposal was first discussed.
Ms Woodward and Ms Clements said they lost a tenant willing to pay $30,000 a year, and they understood why the flood-prone lot was knocked back for development.
But they said it was "incredibly unfair" that the council, having labelled the lot useless and effectively worthless, continued to demand rates and ongoing maintenance.
A recent quote for the upkeep of the site put the cost at $275 a month.
"We just can't afford that," Ms Clements said.
"I'm furious. You can't keep affording to pay rates and maintenance on a site that the council says you can't do anything with."
Ms Clements said the council should acquire the land.
The council said its rates were based solely on land valuations, and it could provide "rates relief" to the owners if they applied to the NSW Valuer General's Office and received a reduced valuation.
"Council's Wallsend floodplain management plan, adopted in 2009, classified the site as part of a floodway in accordance with the state government's guidelines for floodplain management."