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Author: Ian Cullis, BC Non-Profit Housing Association    Original Post Date: October 31, 2019

A safe, secure, and affordable home is important for the well-being of all Canadian households and, in particular, enables marginalized groups to thrive in their communities. But what happens when housing – that most critical of foundations – is unaffordable?

BC’s affordability crisis is particularly hard on rental households. The Canadian Rental Housing Index, development by BCNPHA and our partners, shows that nearly half of all rental households in BC (43%) spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities; more than 21% spend over 50%, well beyond the standard benchmark for housing affordability. 

Along with rent, energy consumption plays a key role in housing affordability. But the data shows us that non-profit housing in British Columbia has an alarmingly high per unit energy consumption rate that is 60% higher than that of market housing. The sector’s overall energy use is approximately 1,113 e-GWh and the level of deferred maintenance is estimated to be at least $800 million.

What do these energy consumption figures mean for the sector’s ability to respond to a changing climate? Put simply, the combination of the non-profit housing sector’s aging buildings, equipment disrepair and deferred maintenance means significantly higher energy consumption, higher costs and lowered affordability. The effects of climate change – extremes in temperature, droughts, increased rainfall, storm surges, erosion – push the capacity of our aging assets up to and beyond their limits. This puts our already vulnerable groups at even greater risk of housing instability and homelessness.

We can address these challenges through a few key measures. By addressing deferred maintenance and prioritizing energy conservation and resilient buildings, the non-profit sector could reduce their carbon footprint by 52 kilotonnes of CO2 emissions annually, and save $20 million on energy costs.

We can do this by maximizing the energy-saving opportunities available through new government funding streams. In response to BCNPHA’s Affordable Housing Plan for BC, the province allocated over $1.4 billion to housing repair, and $6.6 billion to redevelopment over 10 years. Ottawa also committed funding to repair and renewal in the community housing sector. With a clear focus on resilient, adaptable buildings that adapt to a changing climate, fluctuating energy costs, and housing needs over the next 60 years, we can begin to mobilize the sector to minimize their energy consumption and be ready for the forces of climate change.

This post was written ahead of the Vancouver Café Pracadémique on Community Housing Sustainability in the context of climate change (originally posted October 31, 2019).