Written by Drs. Sasha Tsenkova and Karim Youssef (University of Calgary). Presented at the Enhr Conference (Toulouse, France). 2011.
This report is an overview of strategies used in BC and Ontario to fund green upgrades of social housing. The social housing sector makes up less than 6% of the total housing stock. A third of this stock is publicly owned with the balance being managed through a variety of co-op, non-profit or limited dividend strategies. The focus of this report is on green upgrades to social housing stock because these housing units are generally older and have a high tenant turnover resulting in higher operational costs. Furthermore, co-ops and non-profits tend to be limited in their ability to intensify renovation efforts due to a "shortage of financing and commitment from senior government." This research project focused on federally-funded social housing renovation programs in British Columbia and Ontario, which have both been complemented by provincial funding since 2009.
The report focuses on the following research questions:
Q: What policy instruments support energy efficiency improvements in the social housing sector at the federal level and in Ontario and BC specifically?
A: Since the early 2000s, the federal government has shifted the responsibility of managing social housing to the provincial governments in each jurisdiction. This has resulted in smaller localized social housing portfolios that can be well managed at the provincial level. While provinces are indirectly involved in subsidizing the cost of social housing through rent-geared-to-income assistance, the general affect of "expanded provincial government social housing responsibility is constrained investment in the maintenance and rehabilitation of the aging stock owned by public and non-profit housing providers."
Significant economic instruments have been used to ameliorate the situation at the federal level including the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund for renovation of existing housing stock. Unfortunately, because the program sets strict deadlines (about one year from receiving funds to when they expire with a cap of $28,000 per unit) the funds are spent "hastily and not necessarily wisely."
Q: How are these policies and programs implemented by different types of social housing providers?
Almost 700 existing social housing projects have benefited from the first years allocation of $75 million for the Renovation and Retrofit of Existing Social Housing administered by CMHC under Canadas Economic Action Plan. A similar amount is expected to be allocated this year. Some large providers such as BC Housing and Housing York Inc. have used these funds to support major structural efficiency changes along with low-cost initiatives.
Q: What innovative types of energy efficient retrofits are implemented and why?
The specific energy retrofit is heavily dependent on the existing building structure. Examples of innovate energy-efficient retrofit programs that have been developed in British Columbia and Ontario include:
A condenser boiler system with domestic hot water solar technology in Scarborough, Ontario
High efficiency heating and electrical systems that reduce green house gasses by 90% per year in Surrey, BC.
- Balcony and elevator retrofits along with lighting and boiler replacements by BC Housing.
While social housing is a relatively small piece of the housing market, it should be recognized that special programs are necessary to cater to specific characteristics of this sector (namely low capital and relatively old housing stock). The authors believe that these renovation projects in British Columbia and Ontario can serve as important examples for future social housing investment strategies in other provinces.
This report would be of interest to policy developers and researchers who are interested in energy-efficient renovations to social housing units.
Reviewed by Kevin Unrau