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Solving the Housing Crisis with Environmental Considerations

Opinion by Meaghan Foley.

A spread of blueprints, some rolled up and some laid out, on a tabletop.

Canada has the lowest number of housing units per 1,000 residents of all G7 countries, and "the number of housing units per 1,000 Canadians has been falling since 2016 owing to the sharp rise in population growth" [1]. This crisis has a seemingly simple solution; build more houses. Although the construction of additional residential units seems like the obvious answer, a similarly daunting crisis is also emerging. The climate crisis the world is currently enduring is urgent and must be addressed as soon as possible. These two extreme emergencies facing Canada must be looked at together to successfully aim to improve both.

Developing residential expansion in urban settings is ideal for those who need access to affordable housing the most. Low-income individuals and families rely on inner-city dwellings to successfully secure jobs and public transit for necessities [2]. Given this, the existence of affordable and subsidized rental units in urban areas has been the strategy since World War II in Canada, and therefore has resulted in many buildings dating back to this time [1]. Because of this, many of these buildings have degraded past the point of repair and require great effort and resources to restore them. Another challenge of urban housing development is the encroachment of buildings onto green spaces and the increase of greenhouse gas emissions in cities [3]. The concentration of housing within cities is widely considered to be a climate change issue as the rapid expansion and development of new residential buildings accounts for large carbon footprints.

A new model of affordable housing consists of focusing on both mixed-income housing, as well as green models of construction and maintenance. For example, in Ottawa, the newest subsidized housing expansion is a completely passive, mixed income, and mixed housing type community [4]. This is the largest residential Passive House apartment building in Canada and accommodates seniors, families, and individuals with varying levels of income types [4]. Passive Houses are designed to minimize the amount of renewable energy resources needed to heat and cool a home; the engineering that goes into this kind of building provides a path to Net Zero and Net Positive homes [4]. The idea of Passive Houses is to reduce the impact on the planet while the residents are living in their home [5]. Using recycled materials and attempting to minimize footprint of building homes is another strategy for green housing, however experts consider the retrofitting and new development of these houses to be a long-term sustainable option [5].

The conversation surrounding whether to continue developing new housing to build state-of-the-art green homes, depends on the decision to retrofit old homes. Some of the aforementioned buildings dating back decades need both resource and time investment, both of which threaten the crises of this discussion. Due to the need for green space in urban areas, a common strategy is to build upwards. Skyscrapers and high-rise apartment buildings have been a way of allowing more people to live under smaller square footages. This, again, can help minimize the encroaching upon green spaces and help solve the homelessness and housing crisis in Canada. By focusing on more units per land used instead of large homes for wealthier members of cities, both crises can be tackled at once. In addition, because property in inner-city areas is considered high-value real estate, social housing organizations often find it beneficial to sell off townhomes and single-family homes to develop or refurbish apartment buildings that they already own or are buying.

While this may seem like a way of minimizing climate impact as well as focusing on offering more people homes, it also takes away some of the options for big families who often occupy the need for affordable housing. 1- and 2-bedroom apartments can help solve the immediate housing crisis in allowing individuals to be housed and diminish the waitlists in many cities. However, larger townhomes that have been the focus of the last several decades, no longer fit the need to address the housing crisis at hand. Abandoning this idea, however, abandons large immigrant families and their need for adequate housing. Considering all of this, there are many solutions to both the climate crisis and the housing crisis. When tackling both at the same time, efficiency and compassion collide in order to prioritize society’s most vulnerable in many ways.



[1] Perrault, Jean-François. “Canadian Home Sales (December): Housing News Flash.” Post. Scotiabank, May 12, 2021.

[2] Tsenkova, Sasha. Energy Efficient Affordable Housing. Springer International Publishing, 2021.

[3] Higashihara, Thai Dillon. “Innovative Affordable Housing Strategies for Vancouver.” ResPublica: Undergraduate Journal of Political Science 5, no. 2 (2021): 106–12.

[4] “Concept.” Mosaïq. Arriv Properties, October 4, 2021.

[5] Manzoor, Sabir. “Design, Simulation and Analysis of a Passive House and Its Renewable Energy System for Newfoundland.” Memorial University Research Repository. Memorial University of Newfoundland, February 1, 2021.

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