Sustainable Affordable Housing: Hope for a Brighter Future

Sustainable Affordable Housing, and How Affordable Housing Can Lead to a More Sustainable Future

Part of a series: The Global Housing Crisis: Facts, Figures, and Solutions

By Amanda Winstead

As climate change continues to grow in scope, sustainability has evolved from a buzzword to a global priority. An April 2020 poll found that more than 70% of adults around the world consider climate change to be just as serious of a crisis as Covid-19. Many of those polled said that they’re willing to change personal habits to lessen their carbon footprint, but agreed that governments should also intervene.

While climate change significantly harms the natural world, its impact spans well beyond environmental concerns. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, in fact, the climate crisis can negatively impact sectors ranging from transportation and agriculture to food security, human health, and beyond. And, surprisingly, potential solutions to these issues are often more closely related than they may seem.

As such, climate change is increasingly being looked upon as a social issue as well as an environmental one. Experts across numerous disciplines believe that tackling social issues such as affordable housing in tandem with climate change is the best way to improve sustainability, as well as boost the economy. By investing in green affordable housing, governments and homeowners alike can help bring about new job opportunities, while also strengthening communities and decreasing emissions on a large scale.

Here’s what you need to know about how the development of affordable green homes may improve the housing market and local economies, and also help steer humanity towards a more sustainable future.

colorful dense suburb, sustainable affordable housing

Sustainable Affordable Housing: 3 Key Factors

Why Sustainability is Crucial to Our Future

By the time the term finally made its way into the public vernacular, climate change had already done plenty of damage. In 2019 alone, the effects of climate change caused otherwise preventable weather events including fires, flash floods, and extreme heatwaves. The global atmospheric carbon dioxide level also increased, as did the average temperature of the world’s oceans.

Unfortunately, the climate crisis has increased in scope in recent years. But there is hope, in terms of improving sustainability worldwide and working to reduce the effects of climate change. And it starts at the individual level. In urban communities and rural areas across the country, home and property owners are on the front lines of change.

Alongside global temperatures, housing costs are on the rise. On average, a U.S. resident can expect to spend an average of $293,040 when building a family home, but that can vary significantly depending on location. Material costs and the time spent building the house are also important considerations when you’re planning to build an eco-friendly house.

Housing for All: Cost and Environmental Considerations

Considering the six-digit price tag attached to a new home building project, it’s little surprise that the option is out of reach for many people. Purchasing an existing home may be a better option if you’re eco-conscious and on a tight budget, but there are still numerous factors to consider when buying a house. Think about the monthly costs involved, like mortgage payments and insurance, as well as the price of future repairs, general maintenance, and sustainable upgrades.

Whatever your budget and sustainability goals, you have plenty of options in the realm of green building. You could opt to install a solar energy system, for starters, which can lower or even eliminate your monthly energy costs. In this way, sustainability and utility savings go hand-in-hand, resulting in housing that’s more affordable to those with limited incomes.

One sustainable building method that’s gained traction in recent years is modular construction. Rather than building a single-family home or apartment complex on-site, modular buildings are constructed at an off-site facility and re-assembled on an existing foundation. Modular housing is a great option for affordable housing, as they are completed nearly twice as quickly as traditional homes, keeping costs down for investors and residents alike.

Sustainable homes should also have sustainable landscaping. In arid climates with little annual precipitation, rock gardens and succulents are replacing the traditional grass lawn, which is water-intensive. Depending on where you live, sustainable landscaping may involve improving soil health, water conservation and/or reclamation, and the use of eco-friendly building materials.

The Future of Affordable Housing

Prospective homeowners may not realize it, but the construction industry is inherently wasteful. Whether you’re planning a remodel, addition, or new construction project, don’t overlook the environmental impact. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the construction and demolition industry generated 600 million tons of waste in 2018. Of that debris, nearly 145 million tons ended up in landfills. When planning and building sustainable housing, the utmost care must be taken to ensure that little to no raw material is wasted.

Of course, economics and the environment aren’t the only things to consider when you’re building or purchasing a green home. You should also be mindful of how your project can potentially change your surroundings, for better or for worse. In low-income neighborhoods across the U.S., for instance, new building projects can cause a ripple effect wherein the average cost of living increases, and long-time residents are ultimately displaced. The process is commonly known as gentrification.

Although gentrification involves improving existing buildings and infrastructure and installing attractive features such as bike paths and public gathering spaces, those investments typically increase the cost of living. Median rent prices have skyrocketed in the wake of increased “neighborhood improvements,” and there’s no affordable housing to be found in many recently gentrified neighborhoods.

Further, research indicates that gentrification and green building cannot effectively co-exist, and may even serve as competitors. In the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, for example, gentrification has become a bigger problem than the area’s environmental deterioration and poor air quality. South Park residents are often forced to choose between affordability and the environment — and for most low-income citizens, that’s not really a choice at all.

Key Takeaways on Sustainable Affordable Housing

Affordable housing and climate change are complex issues, and there’s no single solution. But you may be able to make a difference, at both an individual and community level, by working to understand how the housing crisis and environmental concerns intersect. Along with reducing emissions, green building may serve as an unlikely avenue towards lasting social change and a more sustainable future.

About the Author

Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.