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Sustainability In Affordable Housing

We’re in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. In fact, according to Enterprise—a US-based nonprofit that addresses the shortage of affordable rental homes with capital and community development—nearly 19 million U.S. households pay over half their income on housing, and hundreds of thousands more have no home at all.

Soaring rent prices, the lack of housing supply, and persistent low incomes are all to blame. 

Forbes points out that rent prices have increased alongside home prices. Why? Because as more people are priced out of home buying, there’s a higher demand for rentals, upping prices. In fact, January’s average asking price for rental housing was up 15.2% from last year.

Similarly, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices,  showed that home prices continued to increase across the U.S. in 2021, with an 18.8% annual gain in December.

Via S&P Global

This is in part due to the lack of housing supply. So how can we build enough housing to decrease rent and house prices, as well as homelessness?

What Is Being Done About the Affordable Housing Crisis

Thankfully, Canada is making moves to address the affordable housing crisis. Starting in 2022-23, the Department of Finance Canada’s Budget 2022 proposes to provide $1.5 billion over two years to ensure that more affordable housing can be built quickly. This new funding is expected to create at least 6,000 new affordable housing units.

Similarly, a 10-year agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta will invest $678 million to protect, renew, and expand social and community housing in Alberta.

But we have to wonder, given the soaring costs of materials and labour, will we be able to generate any measurable impact within the budget provided? Or be forced to cut costs and compromise on quality?

Pairing Affordability with Sustainability

With the volatile markets and supply chain for building materials, the two words least expected to appear in a potential solution would be sustainability and affordability. But believe it or not, a leading edge way to address the affordable housing crisis is to combine rapid housing with affordability, sustainability, and resiliency.

For example, energy efficient improvements can reduce the long-term operating costs of subsidized multifamily buildings. In turn, this:

  • Stabilizes the portfolios of affordable housing providers
  • Preserves the affordable rental housing stock
  • Protects tenants from instability

A Deutsche Bank and Living Cities report found that—from a sample of 231 multifamily affordable buildings—retrofits resulted in an average 19% fuel savings and 7% electric savings.

Furthermore, green improvements can improve the health outcomes of low-income families, particularly children at risk for asthma.

Affordable housing units should be built with sustainability and safety as a top priority, and they’re not out of reach from a financial standpoint. In fact, government projects can kill two birds with one stone by leveraging environmentally sustainable solutions in the affordable housing project boom.

Employing Prefab Solutions

Not only do we need affordable housing, we need it fast and we need it to fit into ever decreasing budgets as inflation adds another layer of complexity to the pot.

With the rise in inflation and building material costs, thankfully prefab solutions like TechPanels—which once cost a premium—are now on par with traditional build costs with many of the benefits and upgrades you still won’t see in traditional materials.

Prefab solutions can ensure that affordable, sustainable housing can be done on a tight timeline without sacrificing on quality and safety. In fact, many housing initiatives are taking into account sustainability and climate resiliency in their plans. 

Prefab Solutions in Action

In February 2022, the Kanaka Bar Indian Band, SAIT, Okanagan College, Foresight Canada, and Seko Construction partnered to launch the Kanaka Bar Resilient Housing Challenge. This Innovation Challenge was created to help the communities of Lytton, BC, and Kanaka Bar rebuild sustainably after the wildfires of 2021.

In just four months, the Challenge was planned and launched, applications were received and reviewed, and the top solutions were selected for testing and piloting. After receiving nearly 50 unique climate-resilient building technology solutions, ZS2 Technologies was chosen alongside FORM Innovations and Artspan to construct four pilot housing structures at Kanaka Bar that will be ready for occupancy by September 2022.

What’s Next

Creating a new standard and raising the bar for affordable housing will improve not only the experience of those that need housing, but the organizations and municipalities in charge of implementing these strategies and social improvements. 

At ZS2, our prefabricated, structurally insulated, low carbon, fire resistant panels aren’t only sustainable—they’re affordable. In other words, they really are the building material of the affordable housing future.

Want to learn more about how we’re deploying the future of sustainable construction? Contact us.
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