Housing Policy is Climate Policy

ABC hosted representatives from the Rocky Mountain Institute this week to discuss the intersection between the housing crisis and climate policy. If you couldn't make it, you can watch a recording of the meeting.

Additionally, here is a quick summary of some of the interesting points that were discussed or links that were shared in the chat:

  • RMI has been thinking a lot about how the US can meet its Paris climate goals. They calculate that nearly 30% of our carbon emissions come from transportation, which we can address by building 70 million electric vehicles and reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 20%. One of the best ways to reduce VMT is to build stuff closer together, so people don't need to drive as far to work, school, or the grocery store!
  • The New York Times just published some interactive maps illustrating this point. Whether it is a city with public transit like Boston, or without it like Austin, dense urban cores have a much lower carbon footprint than the suburbs. Often, where a building is matters more for its carbon footprint than the materials that are used to construct it.
  • RMI has been modeling where we can be building new housing to have the biggest impact - they mentioned that Cambridge is  one of the best places because of its combination of jobs and access to transit
  • Building more housing in places like Cambridge can benefit a wide range of people: Lowering housing costs and making it easier to access high-paying jobs and good schools can all benefit our most vulnerable community members. Building more "middle-sized" housing like triple-deckers can revitalize smaller-scale construction jobs and increase the number of small businesses a city can sustain. Finally, ending things like exclusionary zoning and building more housing in resource-rich areas can help right historical wrongs, while also thinking about how we can build a sustainable future.
  • We discussed some of the tradeoffs, and how to think about the impacts of urban construction. For instance, although it is a shame to remove trees to build a 10-unit apartment building, that's much better than building 10 single-family houses out in the exurbs where many more trees will need to be cut down. Furthermore, new construction can be much more efficient than old construction.
  • Finally, there are a ton of great organizations advocating for these goals. Of course, the pro-housing group in Cambridge is ABC. Our friends at Abundant Housing MA (AHMA) are doing an awesome job advocating for housing statewide, and there are dozens more in California, the Pacific Northwest, Connecticut, Minneapolis, and elsewhere!

Environmentalists and housing advocates can be a powerful coalition for building a more equitable, greener future!