By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated
Shelter is a basic human right, but it is becoming an increasingly tenuous commodity. Across the country, people are struggling to meet skyrocketing rents and protect their homes from the harsh elements. To secure these homes for people everywhere, the housing market needs a complete revamp with climate consciousness at the forefront.
The housing and climate crisis are inextricably linked. By addressing both, the world surges toward a more equitable and eco-friendly future.
Part of a series: The Global Housing Crisis: Facts, Figures, and Solutions
The housing market is facing trouble on all sides. The world found a historic shortage of 1.35 million homes since 2020. Since the 2008 crash, housing inventory has struggled to make a comeback. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed construction of new homes even more.
For home-dwellers and renters, housing prices are becoming even more unaffordable. Mortgage rates have now doubled since the start of 2022 and housing prices are 6% higher than 2021’s prices. Clearly, the housing market is in crisis.
However, the housing and climate crises are intertwined, worsening both of their statuses. Greenhouse gas emissions are heating up the planet, causing natural disasters and the degradation of natural landscapes. While many industries house large swathes of emission output, residential buildings account for 20% of these greenhouse gas emissions.
Residential buildings also tend to be what is deemed “gray housing,” or energy-inefficient and unhealthy homes. Building materials do not trap heat in the cold months or utilize the natural lighting of the sun in their designs. Their cheaper materials may also introduce dangerous materials that cause health problems later on. For both people and the planet, these cheaper materials are dangerous.
Natural disasters are another point of connection. In 2021, 14.5 million U.S. homes saw damage from hurricanes, fires, snowstorms, and floods. As environments degrade across the globe, the severity of these storms will only increase.
In the wake of disasters, people suffering from poverty and people of color are disproportionally affected. In Texas, the government built subsidized housing in flood zones, resulting in 39,000 people being forced to flee catastrophic conditions in 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.
Furthermore, affordable housing is less likely to receive grants or aid in reconstruction efforts. People who once lived there may have trouble finding temporary apartments. With the cost of building a new house increasing up to 40%, many are facing homelessness.
In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, this should not be a reality for so many people.
How did we reach this point of apparent catastrophe? For one, there is a lack of public subsidies and a shortage of homes for rent. Housing options as a whole are not geared for low-income citizens, making the pool of affordable options ever smaller.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the landscape of the world. As people were forced to shelter in their homes, the world began to realize how inadequate these places really are.
Social distancing is not as easy when the home does not have access to water and sanitation. Low-income housing options often suffer from water that is undrinkable or inadequate for proper sanitation. Without help from true people’s governments, they may also have to leave their homes to seek employment.
This is not just a class issue, either – communities of color are disproportionally affected by foreclosures or evictions, even in this time of great disease. As of July 2022, the rent moratorium is no longer active.
As both people and the environment are struggling with the current state of housing, we need to take immediate action. Like any worldwide issue, nothing can be resolved overnight. However, with an actionable plan focused on health and long-term success, people and the planet can live harmoniously again.
First and foremost, housing efforts need to be people-focused. Historically, the housing market is riddled with segregation and inequality. Redlining practices place communities of color in underdeveloped and underfunded areas, which still affect these families today as they face food deserts and disproportionate effects from natural disasters.
Having this knowledge of vast inequality present in all conversations and plans will ensure these injustices will not be repeated in the future. The housing market needs system-wide redevelopment to strive toward equality.
Considering manufacturers and construction crews is also vital. Are these workers compensated fairly for their efforts? Is the company committed to creating an eco-friendly and equitable future? How will governments enforce environmental policies in business-level efforts?
Basing plans on human rights ensures both residents and workers have a safe and positive future.
Looking to the government to enforce policies and protect citizens is always important, but local governments have the most power to see their constituents’ needs. By changing zoning codes and creating policies for sustainable construction, there are clear rules for a change.
They can also be active players in the housing market that set prices and buy or build properties. The public purchase of properties allows democratic control over affordability and access to potential residents. Experts advise that local governments utilize tax funds and bonds to accomplish these goals.
Another key player in mitigating the effects of the crises is the communities themselves. After all, local residents are the people who understand the landscape the best. By including locals in efforts and plans, they can offer potential routes to success and more personalized struggles that need attention. The history and culture of a community are essential to their way of life, and ignoring these factors will not be sustainable for the people here.
Sustainable recovery after natural disasters also promotes longevity and resilience in its community. Encouraging training, preparation, and community-wide relief efforts will help people rebuild and rely on each other for support.
Sustainable construction is vital to success. Avoiding building materials like cement, steel, and aluminum promises stronger buildings, but also more eco-friendly construction practices.
There is also a large collection of empty buildings that can be converted into housing instead of demolished. Renovation is cheaper and avoids the massive output of energy put into demolition.
When a new development is necessary, companies must consider the ecological landscape of the plot. Too often, apartments are built on marshes that start to sink in a few decades. Working with experts and local communities will allow development to last several lifetimes.
People need homes and the planet needs a more sustainable process. Together, we can promise a safe and equitable future for future generations and wildlife across the globe. While the housing and climate crises are linked, this does not mean there are no paths forward. By understanding these correlations, we are already working towards a better future.
About the Author
Rose is the managing editor of Renovated and has been writing in the construction industry for over five years. She’s most passionate about sustainable building and incorporating similar resourceful methods into our world. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.