What does affordable housing have to do with climate change?
Throughout California, we are seeing two critical priorities converge: affordable housing and climate resilience. While daunting on their own, these intersections may offer helpful direction about how we might solve both problems.
Adequate supplies of high-quality affordable housing and climate resiliency are inextricably linked. Any efforts to address housing demand will fall short over time unless we simultaneously ensure that housing development considers climate impacts, is responsive to security risks, and factors in climate-related economic consequences.
“We need to put billions of dollars into addressing California’s housing crises, if we don’t want to make the problem worse, we will have to integrate and adopt a holistic, equitable approach that considers climate, so we can get the smartest and most sustainable results from those investments,” said Kate Meis, executive director of the Local Government Commission. “The same is true the other way: We need to scale our climate response, but if we’re not thoughtful about how our solutions affect housing, we will only make the housing crises worse.”
As we maintain and grow our housing stock, existing buildings, should be retrofitted to be more resilient to heat and sea-level rise, and new developments should be sited in low-risk areas. Transit-oriented housing can serve as an important strategy for making communities more climate-resilient while enhancing low-cost transportation options. Increasing the resiliency of our housing is particularly critical in lower-income neighborhoods and underserved communities who have historically lacked adequate housing – because of long-term social disinvestment – and are at greater risk from climate-change impacts.
Adding to our housing stock in ways that are climate-resilient can help reduce energy- and transportation-related pollution, slowing the effects of climate change and increasing resiliency to climate impacts, including extreme heat, while reducing economic burdens for residents.
The city of Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, alone lost 3,000 homes – fully 5% of its housing stock – in the Tubbs Fire. Thousands of residents remain displaced, and many are not sure where they will end up or whether they can continue to afford living in the region where housing is expensive and in chronically short supply. As the region rebuilds, the City are offering incentives for homeowners to build more resilient, zero-net energy homes through a partnership with Sonoma Clean Power, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
By 2030, 60% of the world’s buildings will be new or rehabilitated construction, creating a significant opportunity to develop buildings that are more resilient to extreme heat, drought and storm events by using technology and design techniques to capture stormwater, reduce the urban heat island effect and conserve energy and water.
“Climate change can seem like a distant threat for many people, and the idea of making communities more climate-resilient may seem a bit abstract compared to more tangible demands to find safe, affordable housing, reliable transportation, healthy food, clean air and water, and jobs that can sustain a family,” Meis said.
“Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ that exacerbates equity issues already faced by people of color and immigrant communities as the result of long-standing economic, social and racial factors,” said Kif Scheuer, the LGC’s climate-change program director. “Housing disparities are potentially the single most dramatic example of where these inequities have taken root. As a new set of climate-adaptation policies are being developed and large investments are being made to build more housing, we have a unique and urgent opportunity to create new policies that strengthen our housing options both the building of climate resiliency and social equity.”
A McKinsey Global Institute report estimated that California must build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 to satisfy pent-up demand and meet the needs of its growing population.
The housing shortage generates a housing affordability problem, exacerbated by growing income disparities. Nearly 6 million Californian households are unable to afford the cost of housing. In every metropolitan statistical area at least 30% of households (as high as 60% in some regions) cannot afford the cost of housing.
“The good news is that communities across California are creating viable models that can be replicated and expanded,” Scheuer said. “These projects are not only reducing pollution and increasing resilience to extreme heat and other climate impacts but they’re also providing for people’s basic housing, transportation, food and work needs.”
By Local Government Commission staff, Sacramento, CA
Contact Khrystyna Platte (email@example.com) for more information.
Editor’s Note: The Local Government Commission is organizing the third California Adaptation Forum to be held this upcoming August 28-29 in Sacramento. Cool Davis board member Michael McCormick will be involved Monday in “Addressing Urban Heat: A Workshop for Practitioners” and “Sea-Level Rise Adaptation: Understanding the Science, Regulatory Frameworks and Resources” in his role as Senior Planning Advisor with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. On Wednesday, Michael will be involved in “Preparing Your Community’s Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan.” #CAadapts
Workshops, plenaries, and sessions that will address the intersection of affordable housing and climate change include “Infrastructure, Climate, and Equity: Challenges and Opportunities for Resilience,” “Building Blocks for an Uncertain Tomorrow: Policymaking in an Age of Climate Risk,” “Buildings Are for People: Engaging Low-Income Multifamily Building Occupants,” “Creating Equitable Outcomes: Lessons from The Residential Building Sector” (including Bryan Dove, Director of Asset Management, for Cool Davis partner Mutual Housing California), “Partnerships to Advance Equitable Housing Opportunities for All Californians,” and “Coding for Climate: Strategies for Developing Climate-Adaptive Ordinances.”
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