President’s Blog

Can Affordable Housing Also Be Sustainable?

Not being able to afford a home is becoming more of a reality to more people here and around the world.
Canada’s population is about 37 million. Compare that to England’s almost 60 million but include the fact that Canada is 41 times bigger than the United Kingdom and it’s pretty clear we’re not hard up for land to build on for a reasonably small population. Then what’s the problem? It’s complicated.
First of all, there are 3, sometimes 4 levels of government involved that each set their own rules, laws, guidelines, bylaws, policies etc. Then there are the planners and the developers. Don’t forget the landowners. Oh and materials, trades, supply chain, builders. Infrastructure like drinking water, sewer, electricity, and roads all need to be included.
Back in 2017, the Federal Government knew affordability was an issue so created the National Housing Strategy (NHS). It was the first-ever, comprehensive report outlining strategies around affordable housing with a commitment of 4 billion dollars. A 2021 review showed that $37 billion in actual and planned federal budgetary expenditures over 10 years were being committed. That’s almost ten times as much as the original amount.
This strategy supported municipalities to grow supply with a $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund speeding up approvals to build, as municipal governments were considered ‘front line’ when it comes to zoning for an affordable housing supply. But somehow the incentives went largely to developers through low-interest loans to build at-market, rather than affordable housing.

That was bad enough! Now, with the undeniable changes in climate impacting how houses needed to be built and the increasing cost of fossil fuels to provide energy, as well as the global targets to reduce greenhouse gases, things got more complicated.

Yet a decades old building concept provided solutions. Passivhaus or Passive House Standards emerged during the energy crisis of the 1970s when the Arab members of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) banned exports and cut oil production in response to countries supporting Israel’s Yum Kippur War. This political situation impacted the economy of those countries as the price of oil quadrupled. The embargo caused oil shortages that impacted citizens’ ability to run their cars, heat their homes and run their factories. There was collective panic that life would never be the same. Alternatives had to be found! And they were. Engineers and architects saw this challenge and started designing homes using little to no energy to reduce the dependence on oil altogether! That was a critical piece for thinking sustainably and produced the Passive House Standards, which are today reflected in the Green Development Standards.

2 years after the NHS was launched the Government of Canada endowed the $300-million Sustainable Affordable Housing initiative as part of a $950-million expansion of FCM’s Green Municipal Fund (GMF) to help housing providers retrofit existing units for higher energy performance or build new affordable housing to net-zero standards. By 2021, 33 such projects had been approved representing 3000 units.

An example is the Elgin Park Redevelopment in Cobourg creating 40 new affordable and sustainable housing units. These units will demonstrate how sustainability is particularly important in affordable housing because of the stability that is created by minimizing the negative impacts of the volatility of climate change. Through the efficient and thoughtful use of materials, energy, land use and ecosystems, sustainable housing design focuses not only on energy conservation and environmental protection but also takes affordability seriously.

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Did You Know?

Packed into standard shipping containers and placed end-to-end, municipal solid waste generated in one year would wrap around the globe 25 times. This is unsustainable! What is your community doing to target waste reduction? - un.org

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In 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity put the precautionary principle to work.

In 1987, the Brundtland Report consolidated decades of work on sustainable development.

The First World Climate Conference happened in 1979 and opened up the science of climate change.

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." - Anne Frank