Climate Compatible Community and Affordable Housing Solutions

Written by Aisha Salahdiin Ahmed

August 12, 2021

On Wednesday June 23rd and as part of the Solutions Lab Series, the National Housing Strategy Solutions Labs Program hosted a webinar discussing sustainable community, design and how affordable housing developers can apply climate compatible solutions to their next affordable housing project. 

This session was co-hosted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Social Innovation Canada. It explored the results of five National Housing Strategy Solutions Labs focused on sustainable community design and fundamentally integrating environmental performance into affordable housing. It addressed common challenges, opportunities and misconceptions about cost and feasibility. 

To give some context, the Solution Labs Program is intended to tackle complex housing problems differently by producing innovative solutions. It is an annual program that undertakes 8-12 projects each year, and offers a funding of $25,000 – $250,000 per lab depending on the duration of each lab. 

If the turnout of interested attendants at the webinar was an indication of anything, it is that there is a great appetite for climate compatible solutions. Panelists agree that the conditions are currently right, that the desire, the expertise and funds are now attainable. These panelists are experts from different regions in Canada; Anne Marie Markey from CMHC , Montreal’s Adam Mongrain speaking for PORTES, Vancouver’s Betsy Agar for The Reframed Initiative (we have previously dedicated a blog post for all the great things the Reframed Initiative folks are engaged in), Calgary’s Cassandra Caiger for Better Housing Solutions Lab, and Hamilton’s Graeme Stewart for Tower Renewal Partnership. 

The panelists took turns to discuss their take on current opportunities in the housing sector. They highlight that:

  • We now have the ability to collect climate related housing data and create information databases that stakeholders can use.
  • We recognize that collaboration is needed and despite the imperfection of climate data, the insight it provides is critical.
  • There is an abundance of federal support and investments.

The timing is opportune, with Canada’s climate goals aligning with the findings of the solutions labs’ experts.

Panelists agreed that now is the time create a more robust industry and think outside the box by proposing innovative approaches such as electrifying buildings, etc. Overlap in the solutions labs interest are in the areas of policy development, mission driven retrofits, advancing the supply chain, and building useful toolkits and packages.

To make the most of these opportune conditions the group agreed that there is a need for all levels of government to prioritize that we are having a housing crisis coinciding with a climate crisis, and to mobilize solutions accordingly. Participants concluded that the housing sector needs to:

  • Overcome costing complexities in deep retrofits
  • Provide access to availability
  • Devise financing mechanisms
  • Remove regulation barriers
  • Stimulate change by motivation

Similarly, Governments need to provide better data on total life cycle costs, to account for externalities, and to level the playing field between climate compatible, affordable housing and non-climate compatible non-affordable housing. And lastly, developers need to determine to what standard their buildings should be built.

For those interested in taking part in the upcoming round of the solutions lab, the next call for proposals will be open starting September 13th, 2021.

Likewise, and for those intrigued by other NHS programs, I invite you to browse our previous blog post on the 2021 NHS Demonstrations Initiative.

Aisha Salahdiin Ahmed

August 12, 2021