Thursday, December 1 2022

The last report speak United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms what housing advocates and activists have long known: healthy, decent, affordable and sustainable housing must be at the heart of the climate transition.

The World Meteorological Organization building in Geneva, Switzerland, home to the IPCC

World Meteorological Organization image

The latest IPCC report summarizes current scientific knowledge on the impacts of climate change and the vulnerability people and nature to climate-related hazards. It also assesses current efforts and opportunities for adapt to a changing climate. Overall, the picture is bleak: the impacts of climate change are already worse than expected and on the verge of getting worse. These impacts will be most devastating for marginalized and vulnerable groups, including racial minorities, indigenous peoples and the poorest communities in the world. Global South.

Lodging as a climate vulnerability link

Housing advocates have long argued that housing and social vulnerability are intertwined. Stable access to decent and affordable housing is a prerequisite for human well-being, and disruptions in a person’s access to housing can easily spill over into other aspects of their life, including work, social support network and their physical and mental health. This is why many housing advocates support a “housing first» approach based on unconditional access to housing as a fundamental social right.

On this basis, the IPCC reportThe findings should come as no surprise: access to housing and climate vulnerability are closely intertwined. The report lists the links between housing and climate vulnerability across multiple dimensions. For example:

  • Exposure to heat. Rising global temperatures lead to an increase in the number of heat waves, especially in cities due to the “urban heat island” effect. Heat waves can be dangerous and even deadly, especially for elderly residents, children and people with underlying health conditions. Low-income people face disproportionate risks of heat exposure due to leaky and poorly insulated housing and reduced access to air conditioning – a phenomenon referred to in the report as “heat inequity”. In the United States, thermal inequity is associated with historic housing policies, including the redlining of neighborhoods based on race.
  • Health. Poor living conditions and unsanitary housing are associated with increased vulnerability to climate threats. Housing hazards such as lead paint, asbestos and poor filtration can contribute to chronic health problems, amplifying the impact of climate-related hazards such as exposure to heat or cold.
  • Shift. While voluntary migration is a viable (and sometimes necessary) response to climate change, the involuntary displacement of people from their homes due to climate-related hazards such as floods or fires increases vulnerability and is associated with “poor health, well-being and socio-economic problems”. results. Insecure access to housing can also make it harder for households and communities to respond to climate change. For example, someone facing unsafe living conditions or facing eviction will have a much harder time accessing programs designed to protect their home from climate threats, such as flood protection or energy efficiency services. .

Housing as a pathway to inclusive adaptation

The report provides some important lessons on the role of housing in climate adaptation:

Takeaway #1: Leverage the power of public finances

A key The lesson to be learned from the IPCC report is the key role of public finance in driving adaptation efforts. To date, most funding for adaptation comes from public sources, and the public sector will continue to play a key role both directly and by addressing regulatory, cost and market barriers.

Although private investment in housing can drive a significant amount of adaptation, the IPCC report warns that a predominantly private approach risks excluding “the priorities of the poor”. It is not difficult to see why this is the case. Market forces respond to market demand, not social needs. And like any first-year economics student will tell you, market demand is determined by “willingness to pay,” which depends primarily on having money. This means that a wealthy person looking for a luxury second vacation home generates a lot of housing demand, while a low-income renter with little disposable income generates very little. This fundamental dynamic helps to explain the glaring lack of affordable rental housing in most major US cities, despite overwhelming need.

In the United States, effective climate adaptation will require moving beyond the current market-based approach to affordable housing development – ​​which relies heavily on private sector “nudge” through tax incentives. and modest grants – towards a more active role for government. This includes scaling up existing affordable housing programs and incentives and reforming exclusionary land use and zoning policies, two key priorities of the Biden administration’s agenda. Building back better agenda. But it will also be require taking seriously policy approaches that have long been dismissed, such as government-led construction and social ownership of healthy, green and affordable housing.

Takeaway #2: Watch out for mismatch

A second lesson from the IPCC report is the danger of “maladaptation” – adaptation measures that aim to reduce climate risk but end up making the problem worse. The risk of maladaptation is particularly high when planning and implementation processes fail to integrate diverse perspectives and take into account “negative outcomes for different groups”.

A An example of maladaptation highlighted in the report is the phenomenon of “green gentrification”, whereby investments in climate-friendly housing and other adaptation efforts drive up property values ​​and local rents, fueling move. Gentrification of adaptation measures can have the perverse effect of increasing net vulnerability to climate risk, by increasing displacement, disrupting social networks and pushing low-income residents into high-risk areas.

Avoiding maladaptive outcomes requires careful attention to who benefits from adaptation efforts, as well as meaningful involvement of vulnerable residents in decision-making processes.

Takeaway #3: Take an inclusive and bottom-up approach

A third lesson from the report is the importance of “inclusive governance that prioritizes equity and justice in adaptation planning and implementation”. Inclusive and diverse decision-making processes can “connect scientific, indigenous, local, practitioner and other knowledge,” helping to ensure locally appropriate solutions and avoid maladaptive outcomes like green gentrification.

Given the role of housing as a nexus of climate vulnerability, it is also essential to take a cross-sectoral approach, integrating adaptation efforts across housing, energy, water and health. . This could involve, for example, coordinating and streamlining the provision of energy and water efficiency services, assistance with utility bills and rent assistance to comprehensively resolve energy and housing insecurity for vulnerable households.

A Veterans Green Jobs installer weathers a low-income home in Denver as part of the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program

Image by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Go beyond incrementalism

The latest IPCC report makes it clear that healthy, decent, affordable and sustainable housing must be at the center of our climate strategy. Has aAdapted to a climate-constrained future, we must move from incremental measures to a transformative approach to ensuring universal access to affordable housing through ambitious public investments in high-quality, climate-resilient housing. the $150 billion in housing-related investments in the Biden administration’s proposed Build Back Better program – which includes historic funding increases for federal programs supporting low-income renters and the preservation and production of affordable housing – is a step towards the scale of the investments required . But we will have to go even further, by scaling up proven programs (such as the Weatherization Assistance Program) while creating new ones (like a federal electrification program for affordable housing) to “ensure a viable and sustainable future for all”.


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