Community Planning and the SDGS

Page 1

Affordable Housing in Nova Scotia and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Community Planning and the SDGS

Summary of a Webinar, September 14, 2022

Ramzi Kawar, Housing Nova Scotia (HNS), described HNS’s Clean Energy Initiatives to make public housing more environmentally and economically sustainable. Statistics on energy usage by public housing demonstrates the link between energy efficiency and affordability. Poverty is central to these discussions, highlighting the relevance of the Sustainable Development Goals, housing, and sustainable energy. While renovations require investments, the reduction in emissions and energy cost savings are substantial. The infrastructure investments that Housing NS has secured has enabled HNS to pilot net-zero renovations in Amherst, Yarmouth and Dartmouth. These pilot projects have realized energy savings of 36-63% beyond what would have been achieved by following current building codes. The current Energy Management Strategy lays out targets for reducing emissions this decade, as well as longer term moves towards net-zero buildings by 2050. These targets will be achieved by: • improving energy efficiency of housing through innovative building projects, • improving training and creating a corporate culture that prioritizes environmental efficiency, • funding mechanisms to support the needed investments, and • streamlining information gathering for monitoring and reporting to demonstrate improvements. This comprehensive strategy shows how increasing energy efficiency in buildings not only reduces energy costs, but by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, it contributes to our province’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Natalie Leonard, Passive Design Solutions, presented a community-focused, sustainable building project from planning to completion. The Sunflower Court Housing Project for Women and Children is an initiative by Adsum House to offer longer-term housing solutions that complements their existing shelter service for families escaping domestic violence. The passive house design of Sunflower Court goes far beyond the standard building code for energy efficiency. Noting that 50% of energy use in Canada is used by buildings,


therefore, a 100% reduction of energy use contributes to climate action. This project demonstrates how multiple Sustainable Development Goals can be addressed when housing is planned in a way that is attentive to the community it serves, in this case SDGs 3 (good health), 5 (gender equity), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 11 (sustainable communities), 13 (climate action), and 16 (peace). Passive house design and construction: • calculates the optimum balance between enhanced insulation and solar panel usage, • limits the use of building materials that emit high levels of CO2 in production, • sources locally made materials wherever possible, and • emphasizes affordable construction costs with simplified design and durable components. The social, economic and well-being enhancements are integrated in the plan designed to foster security and community, including a fenced, central courtyard. Residents have suffered violence and abuse, so it was important to create a community where people could look out for each other. The cost to tenants is 30% of current rent cap, and net zero ensures affordability over time as they will not be affected by energy cost increases. Leonard summarized the lessons of this project: • no ego, collaborative project team, including smart structural, civil, and electrical engineers willing to do things differently from code, • the experience with past passive housing (PH) projects, we limited design options early on, and energy model software to inform PH strategies and level to be most efficient, • limit building size to stay within Part 9 building code with two-storey blocks, and • efficient construction practices and local materials helped with timeline.

Ross Chapin, Pocket Neighborhoods, Washington, opened with an appreciation of the equity dimension in the first two presentations. When we think of built neighbourhoods, we tend to think of scale of economic efficiency, but people like to gather in small groups where conversations happen spontaneously. Pocket neighbourhoods are designed around the scale of sociability, typically those 10 to 12 units around us and across the way. Familiarity fosters cooperation and support for each other, such as watching children and pets, or helping seniors with chores. Unlike suburban design with street frontage and private yards, the pocket Community Planning and the SDGS | Summary of a Webinar, September 14, 2022 | Page 2


design integrates front porches overlooking a shared communal green space with parking and roads off to the side. Chapin described different applications including a renovation providing housing for those who were homeless, a northern town in need of affordable homes for workers, and an assisted independent living community with meals-on-wheels service. The designs also look at efficiencies in construction and reduction of energy costs. Emphasizing the need for people to feel safe in their homes, when stressed by housing finances, it is hard to engage with the world that feels oppressive. If we can find a place for supportive community to feel safe, “We’ll find ourselves calmed and in places that feel like home and in a real community where we can offer ourselves and our gifts to the world.”

Audience Questions Discussion Topics: From a sustainability perspective, are there any conversations on food security, rainwater capture, or community gardens? Panelists discussed community gardens in the housing developments—smaller areas where land and supports were available had more success. Designing a garden space does not ensure it will be used. But there has been success where groups self-organize. They mobilize to get supplies and supports. How do we empower rather than give to and supply? Engage people in a meaningful way. Food security can also be supported through community centre donations, cooking lessons, supporting the availability of quality food in other ways. Do you have examples for smaller towns or rural communities? Chapin explained his small community on an island was suburban focused. The project to build eight homes on four lots sold for half the cost of other homes in the area—smaller homes for smaller households. They are strong in holding value, but are now seen as too nice, too valuable. How do we offer permanently affordable homes? Any places without services? More land is typically needed for septic, etc. Sewar systems on cruise ships will fit in a room, but regulations lag progressive ideas. Many municipalities have R1 or R2 zoning, one or two homes on a property. NS environmental requirements of septic are structured and limited. There is work to do at the policy level to employ these projects without municipal services. These examples are one or two storey units. Regarding land use are you considering ways to maximize space? One-storey builds are valuable for accessibility. For passive buildings, more storeys create higher heat loss. Zoning regulations make it difficult to go beyond three-storeys due to added costs of fire regulations like sprinklers, fire escapes. Community Planning and the SDGS | Summary of a Webinar, September 14, 2022 | Page 3


Any examples of student housing? A number of student residences are passive builds in the US, but none in NS. Pocket model is ideal for university settings, offering a sense of community, but also sense of privacy. Where do you digest information? Conversations in a living room, small scale, places where it can happen. Is there a step-by-step planning and strategy model? Housing NS has a new approach to work with the community step-by-step, to identify opportunities make joint ventures and participate with other groups. The more you can work with others the better—people willing to work together is a basic step. There are opportunities for funding, especially with a focus on energy reduction.