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  • susanebelford

Social Goods Battle #1 -- Truly Affordable Housing vs Climate Resilience

Sooke has seen repeated skirmishes of the battle of social goods around housing affordability and climate resilience.

Social Good – Housing Affordability

The rule of thumb is that housing is affordable when it costs no more than 1/3 of income. By that metric, few Sooke residents live in truly affordable homes, regardless of whether they own or rent.

Someone is in “Core Housing Need” if their place costs more than 30% of before tax income and also needs repair or is too small for the family. Both owners and renters can be in core housing need, but in Sooke in 2016, twice as many renters were in “core housing need” than owners (Sooke Housing Needs Study, Urbanics, 2019).

There is a growing movement to promote local government financing of below-market housing builds in a way that’s self-sustaining and self-financing. The government can borrow at lower interest rates than the private sector and bring in reasonable rental income that allows it to pay off the loan, maintain the buildings and break even. Sooke could embrace this method of meeting its affordable housing needs without increasing taxes. Talk about a social good!

Social Good – Climate resilience

As our climate warms, Sooke will experience more frequent extreme heat days in summer and torrential rains with flooding during the winter. Actions taken now to adapt to this reality will protect Sooke citizens and their property. This is done by both “mitigation”- eliminating sources of carbon pollution-- and “adaptation”- changing infrastructure and behaviour to avoid loss of life and property.

A great way for local communities to mitigate emissions is by eliminating the carbon emissions associated with housing construction and operation.

Each traditionally built house has a one-time emission cost from “embodied carbon” associated with the building materials themselves, and an annual cost related to ongoing emissions from the house’s daily operation -- its heating and cooling, electrical and plumbing systems. Embodied emissions on an average house make a one-time addition of carbon to the atmosphere of about 80-100 tonnes C02e but daily operations add about 20 tons per year. Doesn’t sound like much—but when you add all the house building Sooke is doing, the figure becomes serious—1000 homes will produce another 20,000 tons each year—1,200, 000 tons over 60 years. The figures for multi-family developments are lower, but the same principle applies—traditional building methods increase carbon emissions.

But wait—we don’t have to pit these two social goods against each other!

Zero carbon building materials, home electrification, heating and cooling systems are readily available for use in all types of housing from tiny homes to apartments to mansions. AND the development industry in the CRD is prepared to adopt zero carbon methods. Low emission construction is practical and increasingly price competitive.

So let’s say “yes, AND…” As in—yes, we need truly affordable housing in Sooke. AND this housing can be constructed to zero carbon standards. Yes, we need some lower density neighbourhoods with large lots and single-family homes AND these homes can affordably be constructed to zero carbon standards.”

Let’s focus on what Sooke needs and build a vibrant, resilient community.

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