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We’re constantly hearing that there’s a housing crisis in Canada. In many cities and towns housing prices continue to skyrocket, affordable rental options are disappearing and vacancy rates are chronically low. This is no longer a problem in Toronto and Vancouver only—between July 2019 and 2021, the price of the average home in Canada rose by 30 per cent. Many young people have given up on trying to own homes.

This lack of affordable housing availability is not because of a lack of supply. In fact, in the fourth quarter of 2020 there were 18 homes built for every person added to Canada’s population. Costs are continuing to rise due to a range of factors including rising trends of speculation and investor purchasing.

Cost of living continues to rise across the country while average wages have stalled since the 1970s relative to inflation. Tackling the housing crisis was a major issue in the 2021 Federal election, with all major parties making campaign promises to increase the amount of affordable housing.

Housing and climate change are connected. Like unaffordability, climate change is an additional threat to housing security in Canada, displacing millions of people from their homes every year. People who are displaced due to climate disasters, or who are unhoused, feel the effects of climate events and extreme weather more intensely than people who have secure housing. Ensuring adequate, affordable housing for everyone is key to protecting communities from the effects of climate change.

Climate change is also affecting housing affordability. There is a growing trend known as climate gentrification, where wealthy people move to areas with lower climate risk, pricing out people with lower incomes and forcing them to relocate to riskier areas. Home insurance rates are rising in areas deemed to have high risk of climate disaster, and in some areas of the world (eg. California) insurance companies are refusing to insure homes in risky areas at all. More frequent severe weather also means increased and more frequent repair costs for those who do own homes. 

There’s a clear need for strategies that can both increase housing affordability and mitigate the dangerous effects of climate change. One way of tackling both these issues at once is to convert existing non-residential buildings into housing units, or to increase building density on land where housing already exists through building infill. This means that new homes can be created without the need for extensive, high-emitting construction. But it’s important to note that these types of projects need to be accompanied by strong public policy that regulates affordable pricing and limits investment purchasing. Currently, most affordable rental housing built in Canada is not actually affordable because maximum allowable rents are calculated based on medium incomes for a given area, including owned homes.

In addition to increasing the availability of affordable housing, it’s also important to improve energy efficiency of existing housing, reducing total energy consumption and also saving renters and owners alike energy costs. This process is known as retrofitting, and it could include adding insulation to buildings or adjusting or upgrading lighting, windows and doors. There are deeper retrofit options like upgrading your roof or switching your heating, ventilation or air conditioning to use a renewable energy source

While these measures can be hugely beneficial when it comes to reducing energy consumption, they can be difficult to undertake for individuals facing rising costs of living, even with current financial incentives from government. For renters, they can be totally out of reach as the responsibility to retrofit mainly falls to the landlord, and in a competitive market there is a risk of rent increases that accompanies renovation or maintenance. As Canada moves toward its goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, there’s a need for policy solutions that further encourage retrofitting and make it convenient and affordable to do.

Everyone deserves a safe, affordable home, and everyone deserves to take part in climate action in their communities. Public polls show strong support for action on climate change—people in Canada want to participate in actions that can help reduce emissions and strengthen climate responses in their own communities. But we can’t do it without support. We need effective public policies that increase the availability of truly affordable housing and incentivize actions that reduce energy consumption. Canada’s climate action plan needs to include income security and affordable housing measures if it truly aims to create lasting change that everyone can take part in.