We Can’t Solve the Housing Crisis Without Tackling Climate Change. Here Are 3 Reasons Why.
By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated
The U.S. remains in a housing crisis, short millions of homes. Lack of space, money allocation and resources contribute to the number of unhoused on the street or in shelters daily. The rest of the world is facing a similar problem. In this article, we’ll discuss a specific angle of this global crisis: that of the impact of climate change.
Part of a series: The Global Housing Crisis: Facts, Figures, and Solutions
How Does Climate Change Affect Housing Needs?
We can’t resolve the housing crisis without addressing the increased environmental impact of human-induced climate change. The two issues might not seem related initially, but they remain connected. The effects of climate change limit the ability to produce and maintain homes across the country and around the world. Here are three reasons why.
Temperatures are continuously rising across the continental U.S. Ever since 1901, industrial and manufacturing advancements have had a devastating impact on climate change, which we now see the effects of each day.
The rate of climate change accelerated in the U.S. over the past 30 years. Since 1998, the country experienced nine of the 10 warmest years recorded. The northern and western U.S. and Alaska saw the largest temperature increases. The trend is the same globally, with the 10 warmest years on the planet occurring since 2005.
Some seasons see larger climate change impacts than others. Winter temperatures are most affected in the states, increasing across the contiguous U.S. by nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1896. Spring temperatures increased by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit, with summer and fall temperatures increasing by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperature increases lead to dangerous conditions, with extreme heat and cold harming ecosystems and putting communities at risk. The country is not cooling off at night as it previously did, with record highs more common than record lows. Heat waves occur three times as often as they previously did — plus, they last longer and are more severe than ever.
The heat increase contributes to an increase in precipitation. Over the last century, average rainfall has increased by around 0.2 inches per decade. It increases the amount of flooding that destroys homes and displaces communities. It can also have the opposite effect, with the southwest U.S. getting less precipitation and some states experiencing significant droughts.
More and more heavy storms events happen on a single day, leading to flash floods and the inability to protect homes from significant damage. Flood increases occurred most through the Northeast and Midwest. Large floods occur across the Pacific Northwest and portions of the Great Plains.
The number of tropical storms increased in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Surface temperature greatly contributes to a storm’s duration, strength and frequency.
Extreme cold weather events are also more common thanks to climate change, leading to dangerous conditions and trapping people in their homes.
The warmer atmosphere holds more moisture which translates into heavier snowfall and icy conditions. One in 10 homes nationwide faced home repair or replacement in 2021, thanks to adverse weather events.
As areas become more vulnerable to extreme weather, buyers are less likely to place their homes on the coast or in areas commonly facing extreme weather. With the slowing progression of climate change, the amount of land to place reliable, affordable housing gets increased.
Human-induced climate change contributes to rapidly rising temperatures and changing weather patterns. Many households impacted by the changes have no choice but to stay in the line of severe weather as demand allows sellers to increase the price of homes in less vulnerable areas.
Climate change is more than environmental differences. It also impacts society, directly and indirectly. Warmer temperatures can lead to higher income levels using more air conditioning. Those without the resources might be unable to use A/C but still face the consequences of energy overuse.
The privilege of larger, nicer homes can make it easy to forget about the housing crisis. However, extreme weather and pollution make those areas the only ones cheap enough for many low-income families to afford. Without the resources to sufficiently heat and cool the homes, households are more likely to experience climate-related illnesses.
Droughts and scorching heat damage crops, raising food costs and making it harder for families to afford groceries. Damage from extreme weather can disrupt community services like public transportation and utilities that people below the poverty line disproportionately need.
Urban sprawl increases the impacts of climate change by encouraging greater energy use and destroying precious biodiversity. Humans also struggle to account for all populations with the climate crisis fairly. Minorities are historically in some of the lowest-income neighborhoods across the U.S., due to the lingering effects of policies rooted in racism.
These low-income communities are often in the most vulnerable areas to climate change because the resources are unavailable to address their needs. Homes in dangerous areas cost less than the average home, making them the only option for low-income families.
Land-use policies and exclusionary zoning prioritize white homeowners over all else when dealing with climate change and the housing crisis.
When affordable housing gets developed, green construction is key to keeping them low-cost and maintaining their locations without contributing to further climate change. There are many options out there.
Just as you can reuse steel, some wood from previous projects can get repurposed for affordable housing. Builders can create new structures with many old and abandoned structures without cutting down more trees. Using reclaimed wood allows for continued reforestation and better management of new wood.
Cobb is an incredibly environmentally-friendly home material made from organic materials. The oldest cobb building is 10,000 years old but is rising again in popularity thanks to its unique texture, natural insulation and low-emission production. It’s also easy to use, allowing for custom shapes and sizes.
Many demolitions and renovations led to discarded steel around the country. Steel doesn’t lose anything when reused for another project and utilizing the material reduces the amount of carbon released into the environment by producing and using new materials.
Bamboo continues to rise in popularity as a green building material. It’s incredibly clean to produce and regenerates after harvesting. It’s flexible and strong enough for both interior and exterior work.
Manufacturers can build and maintain homes using these materials, providing long-term shelter for displaced families. Without them, homes become pricey to maintain, which could force low and middle-income families to sell prematurely. With mitigating climate change, natural resources will be easier to produce and create.
Fighting Climate Change to Combat the Housing Crisis
As the U.S. remains in a housing crisis, the environment plays a key role in the potential resolution. Without combating climate change, affordable housing is difficult to create and maintain. It’s necessary to combat the issues together for 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.