In response to Canada’s concurrent affordable housing and climate crises, policy experts and community leaders are uniting in a newly-established council to develop “all-in” solutions that give Canadians better access to basic necessities.
“Sustainable housing is a major priority for the federal government,” the Affordable Action Council (AAC) said last week in a release announcing its launch. The council’s recommendations are meant to provide “critical solutions to making sustainable homes accessible for low-income Canadians, a crucial first step in solving Canada’s housing crisis.”
The AAC has published two new policy briefs that provide “actionable solutions” for the Canadian government, which just announced billions of dollars in funding for several housing-related measures in its fall fiscal update.
“We can no longer afford one-off or zero-sum solutions that ignore the full picture of people’s lives and challenges,” council member Brendan Haley, policy director for Efficiency Canada, said in the release. “Canadians need and deserve supports that make it possible to live safer and more affordable lives.”
Federal Leadership Must Reboot Affordable Housing
One of the AAC briefs calls for greater federal leadership towards adding one million more rent-geared-to-income community homes by 2030, and rebooting the not-for-profit and co-operative housing sectors. The federal government once played a stronger role in community housing, but “dropped the ball” when it stopped funding those initiatives three decades ago, the council says. The community housing baton has since been passed to provincial governments, and in some cases to municipalities, which have severely limited resources and capacity to meet demand.
The AAC urges Ottawa to ensure new housing is built near public transit while meeting net-zero and climate–resilient codes. This may run up against the temptation to build cheap housing as quickly as possible, but Canada must take the right steps to meet its 2050 net-zero target, which requires all homes to be zero-emitting.
“Housing built today will still be standing in 2050 and perhaps beyond,” writes the AAC. “In this respect, it is similar to long-lived infrastructure like roads and bridges.”
The federal government must lead the way on these issues, says the council. It recommends a two-pronged strategy that begins with acquiring property near transit, then leasing it to partner organizations and land trusts that will build net-zero and resilient community housing infrastructure, while maintaining affordability.
Then, the government must provide more attractive financing for the not-for-profit housing sector to help overcome financial barriers to building affordable housing projects.
Retrofits for Low-Income Households First
AAC expands on its call to link affordability and climate action in a second brief, which says the federal government should “establish a new free retrofit program aimed at making about 100,000 homes per year more affordable, energy efficient, and climate resilient.”
Federal retrofit programs already in place to help households improve heating and energy efficiency, but they are often geared toward higher-income homeowners, the council says. The programs “miss the mark” for low-income households, leaving them dependent on fossil fuels and high energy costs while remaining highly vulnerable to climate risks like heatwaves and flooding. As well, landlords of small, affordable rental buildings fall through the cracks of existing programs.
Given the links between climate and affordability, home retrofits must better accommodate low-income homeowners, the AAC says. Ottawa can connect those dots with a program of free and ready-to-use retrofits that makes funds available to private owners of smaller, more affordable buildings and prioritizes low-income homes.
The brief identifies several obstacles for low-income homeowners in current retrofit programs, including high up-front costs, cumbersome, confusing application processes, and too-narrow scopes that miss the potential to improve affordability, adaptation, and net-zero goals.
New Federal Investment
A week after the AAC release, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced billions of dollars in loans and direct funding for affordable housing construction. Her fall economic statement Tuesday earmarked C$15 billion for low-cost loans to developers that will begin to flow out in 2025-26 and are expected to help build 30,000 more homes, reports The Canadian Press. (Though a recent post on Policy Options suggested a better way to get more homes built.)
The government also allotted $1 billion for affordable housing, supporting non-profit, co-op, and public housing providers to build 7,000 new homes by 2028.
The AAC’s briefs gained prominence with the influx of new funds, with several organizations echoing their recommendations. In a recent blog post, the Pembina institute also emphasized that affordable housing must be energy efficient, urging all levels of government to take steps to make it happen.
“The connection between affordability and energy efficiency is increasingly obvious as Canada tackles simultaneous housing and climate crises,” Pembina writes. “New housing must not only be affordably built but also affordably heated, while protecting residents from climate extremes.”
Pembina puts much of the onus on local and provincial governments that have authority over land use planning, stringent code implementation, and coordination with utilities, but notes the federal government “has the power to leverage the funding they control to drive action for cities and provinces that don’t move quickly enough on climate.”
In another recent analysis, the Task Force for Housing & Climate, co-chaired by former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt and former Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, found that aggressive government policy on energy efficiency, construction materials, and land use planning, among other factors, can help Canada avoid 100 megatonnes of carbon emissions per year while building the 5.8 million new units the country needs to solve the housing crisis.