Many of the greenest apartments in Canada are ultra-affordable. here’s why

Think you can’t afford an eco-friendly home? Some of the greenest apartments in Canada cost as little as $85 a month, thanks to social housing providers who have embraced energy efficiency standards and green building techniques.

These builders say it’s a way to use public money to address multiple issues at once, including climate change mitigation and adaptation and tackling growing housing unaffordability and homelessness. . And this is already helping green building techniques to spread to other types of construction and housing.

What kind of green affordable housing is being built?

From Whistler, BCFor Windsor, Ont.For Halifax, NSthere has been a boom in the construction of social housing which aims to meet the Passive house standard.

It is a global standard for airtight, energy-efficient buildings that require very little heating and cooling and maintain a comfortable temperature all year round. The standard also emphasizes features such as natural light and ventilation with fresh air.

Solid wood is another form of green building that some are also using – engineered wood panels and beams replace some carbon-intensive steel and concrete components in construction. Wood also stores the carbon captured during the growth of the trees from which it comes. Because the panels and beams are prefabricated in the factory, construction is quick.

A time-lapse video shows the construction of YWKW’s Block Line Road affordable housing complex in Kitchener, Ontario. Log buildings can be constructed quickly from prefabricated panels and beams. (Element5 Limited Partnership/SRC)

Abla Tsolu, director of homelessness and housing at YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo, said that’s one of the reasons her nonprofit chose a hardwood design for a new complex on Block Line. Road in Kitchener for homeless single women and families headed by single mothers.

She said the group’s waiting list for housing had nearly doubled since before the pandemic and the motels where families were temporarily staying were unsafe due to gang activity.

Ten families moved into the new building in April.

Close up of a sign.
One of the buildings on Block Line Road houses single women. Families headed by single mothers moved into the second building this spring. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Is it affordable?

CityHousing Hamilton, owned by the municipality, has nearly completed its latest project, the King William Modular Passive House.

Sean Botham, development director of CityHousing Hamilton, said most of the 24 units are part of the group’s “deep affordability” program and will cost $85 a month.

“A selection of people moving into this building will be homeless, others will be precariously housed, and some of them will be people who have been waiting for housing for a long time,” he said, then that workers wearing helmets were measuring, hammering and sawing into the pillared foundation behind him. A few white rectangular units that had already been trucked in from the factory and lifted into place by a crane.

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Graham Cubitt is director of projects and development for Indwell, a Hamilton-based Christian charity that builds supportive housing and has adopted the passive house standard. He said Indwell rents are typically around $525 a month, reflecting the amount of money most tenants have for housing under provincial disability support.

Botham said making rents affordable is only possible when governments provide grants and subsidies from the start of construction.

However, he said, designing and constructing a green building does not cost much more than a conventional building.

“It’s not really hard to do, but the benefits are huge.”

Why is it so popular with social landlords?

Cubitt said social housing providers are responsible for their buildings for decades, so they need to think long term. And governments are putting in place measures to deal with climate change, such as carbon taxes And ban on oil and gas heating.

“We wouldn’t have the money to retrofit the buildings,” he added, because that can be a lot more expensive than building an energy-efficient building in the first place.

Many nonprofit housing providers say they also aim to address multiple issues at once.

“Every public investment should achieve more than one end,” Cubitt said. “So how do we make sure we’re meeting climate goals or meeting, you know, fair goals at the same time as building housing?”

A man in a suit stands in front of a red crane.
Sean Botham, Development Manager of CityHousing Hamilton, stands in front of a crane assembling modules for a new passive house affordable housing building. (Heather Waldron/CBC)

Botham said many social housing providers are sharing their knowledge and showing that green building can be done amid an influx of funding to address the housing crisis in many Canadian cities.

“And then something interesting happened,” he said: Federal funding agencies started demanding higher energy efficiency standards.

What does living in a green building mean for tenants?

Daniel Bentum lives in a one-bedroom apartment at Indwell’s James North Landing in Hamilton, Ontario, which recently achieved Passive House certification. The 45 supportive housing units are built on top of a church. The housing provider and the church provide support services such as meals and activities.

A man with glasses stands in an apartment holding a paper cup with a plant growing in it.
Daniel Bentum holds a sunflower he grew on the windowsill of his apartment at Indwell’s James North Landing in Hamilton, Ontario. He planned to plant it in the building’s garden later in the week. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Energy-efficient windows give her views of the Burlington Skyway Bridge and Hamilton Harbor, and fill her apartment with light. When closed, they completely block outside noise.

“It’s really nice to get a good night’s rest,” Bentum said. “And sometimes you just like having a quiet space to relax and enjoy.”

Heat pumps allow tenants to regulate the temperature in their own accommodation. But Bentum rarely needs to turn on the heat pump. His energy bills are so low that he usually gets the money back at the end of the year.

LISTEN | Journalist Emily Chung takes you on a tour of affordable green housing:

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Residents of affordable apartments tell how their eco-friendly homes have changed their lives. Social housing providers explain why they build green and what impact it has on their communities.

Cubitt said many renters couldn’t afford heating or cooling in their previous homes and suffered as a result. Now, he says, “They’re saving everything. They’re saving money, they’re saving the planet.”

A close up portrait of a woman wearing glasses and a colorful blouse.
Abla Tsolu is the Director of Homelessness and Housing at YW-KW. She says that since she started working for the organization four years ago, the number of homeless women and their families in need of housing and support has doubled. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

With solid wood, another advantage highlighted by Tsolu is its beauty. She told how a new tenant refused to enter her new apartment on move-in day.

“She just couldn’t believe it would be hers, just seeing how well thought out everything was, the material – it’s such a quality, exposed wood.”

How does this affect the larger for-profit housing market?

Many non-profit housing providers, like CityHousing Hamilton, work with private sector partners. Botham said that by doing so, they gain experience. This acts as a “catalyst for new developments and even renovations in the for-profit sector – and this is already starting to happen”.

He added that one of CityHousing Hamilton’s private sector partners is currently working on four more high-performance buildings.

Matt Bolen, principal at Edge Architects, who worked on the Block Line Road project, said solid wood had been considered a “premium product” for institutional projects such as universities, hospitals or high-rise residences. of range.

But he says adapting it to affordable housing has opened up new opportunities – “not just in some other supportive and affordable housing projects, but also in market-priced housing.”

A man in a suit sits on a bench in front of a white building.  There are boats and water in the background, out of focus.
Graeme Stewart, principal at ERA Architects, was part of a team that retrofitted a 1960s skyscraper in Hamilton, Ontario to meet Passive House standards. (Heather Waldron/CBC)

Graeme Stewart is Principal at ERA Architects. The firm designed a renovation of CityHousing Hamilton’s Ken Soble Tower, an 18-story skyscraper built in 1967. After adding insulation, upgrading windows and replacing gas boilers with heat pumps central duct, the remarkable white building for the elderly is now passive house certified.

The project proves that such renovation projects are possible, Stewart said, and affordable housing and nonprofits have been the early market and leaders in this space.

“But there is a critical mass of these projects,” he said. “And now there is a solid base – we have the technical know-how and the supply chain.”

Meanwhile, he said, building codes in places like British Columbia and Toronto are becoming more aggressive, requiring most new buildings to be near net zero.

What’s missing, he said, is the funding already in place for nonprofit housing in the form of government grants and loans.

“How can we create the right incentives for the private sector to do this? Are these tax incentives? Are these grant and loan programs that allow work to be done as long as there is no immediate increase in rents for tenants? And for that finance puzzle is really the next piece to diffuse that into the private sector.”

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