Toronto Star: Social housing retrofits save money and promote health

Posted July 30, 2018

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, started door knocking in 2004 in Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton.

Since then we have facilitated 20- to 40-minute house visits with over 150,000 of the lowest-income tenants across these three cities.

During each visit we ask, “What is the biggest issue you would like to see changed?”

Undoubtedly, the most common issue we hear about is the substandard state of both public and private housing.

Common issues experienced by low-income tenants are leaking pipes causing mice, rats, cockroaches, bedbugs and mould; as well as poorly insulated windows leading to freezing temperatures in the winter and extreme discomfort due to heat in the summer.

For many vulnerable people, substandard units lead to negative health outcomes, such as asthma, stress, diseases carried by bugs and more.

In addition, it is incredibly difficult for people to even consider carbon emissions when they have no option but to heat their apartment with their oven, or have faulty windows that need to be left open while running air conditioning units.

In the previous government’s Climate Change Action Plan, tenants were promised $385 million to $500 million for social housing retrofits, plus $300 to $400 million in incentives for retrofits in other private apartment buildings, funded through cap-and-trade revenues.

The diversion of this money away from retrofits represents a huge loss for hundreds of thousands of tenants across the province.

We are concerned about the ripple effect that substandard housing will have on tenants, and anticipate an increase in socioeconomic and health inequality as a result of this funding cut.

Research has shown that every $1 million spent on social housing retrofits generates energy savings of $1.3 million to $3.9 million, as well as additional benefits to residents, such as improved wellbeing.

Without this money, the province’s most vulnerable tenants will be forced to continue living in substandard units that are up to 25 per cent less energy efficient than houses.

Marva Burnett, president, ACORN Canada, Toronto via Toronto Star