As part of its capital repair project, TCHC is banking on new eco-friendly renovations to save money and attract investors.
Toronto’s 2,200 community housing buildings are desperate for renovations. Most of them were built in the 1950s and 60s, and neglected maintenance over the decades has left them barely fit to live in. Roofs are leaking; pipes are crumbling; wind moves easily through poorly-sealed windows and doors. The housing challenges don’t just affect Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) tenants; the buildings affect the city’s air quality, too.
“The fact is, buildings in the city are responsible for half of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change,” said Julia Langer, the CEO of Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF), an organization that invests in ways to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. “We heat [buildings], we cool them, we light them, we ventilate them, we plug our appliances into them.”
Certainly, the 50-year-old TCHC buildings—which aren’t exactly raking in LEED credits for green standards—are contributing more than their share of pollution.
To tackle the problem, TCHC teamed up with TAF to launch a $4.2 million retrofit project that will see seven of its energy-guzzling buildings get a green makeover.
TAF is financing the upgrades through endowment funds and grants which will pay for (among other things): double-paned windows, LED lights, low-flow toilets, new boilers, and in-suite air quality monitors. “It may not be very flashy, but the cost savings, the renewal of mission-critical infrastructure in these buildings, and the improved conditions for the residents is pretty impressive,” Langer said at the announcement in September.
The project, dubbed TowerWise Retrofit, is expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the respective buildings by 30 per cent. It will also reduce utility costs by 20 per cent, which Langer says will amount to at least $400,000 in savings each year. The savings will be shared between TCHC and TAF through an ‘energy savings performance agreement.’ “Specifically, we provide the capital on a non-debt basis and we are repaid with a share of the savings,” Langer explained.
Ecosystem Energy Services, a Montreal-based firm, was selected to undertake and guarantee the retrofits. TAF and TCHC did not give estimates of when updates for the seven buildings would be complete, but said the project is “long-term” and that in time, all TCHC buildings will receive the same treatment.
The retrofit will help make strides towards Toronto’s energy reduction targets of reducing 1990 level emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. At the same time, it’s expected to generate funds TCHC needs to save its aging housing stock through utility savings and by attracting shareholders.
“For TAF and other potential investors, it’s a very mission-aligned investment opportunity,” said Langer.
The initiative is part of a 10 year plan to tackle TCHC’s daunting capital repair backlog—a project that will cost over $2.6 billion. Since launching the plan in 2013, the corporation has secured about a third of the necessary funds, mostly from the City of Toronto. As of last month, TCHC completed 19,703 repair projects with that capital, including roofing repairs, mechanical and structural upgrades, interior renovations and many more.
Without kick-ins from the provincial and federal governments—which have not committed funding despite repeated requests—TCHC will run out of money for more repairs by the end of next year. “We do have a crisis in housing,” said city councilor and social housing advocate Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport). Last year, 350 TCHC homes were boarded up, and Bailão noted that without more funding, 7,500 more will close by 2023, adding pressure to a wait list that’s already pushing 92,000 units.
According to Bailão, letting TCHC infrastructure degrade further will create a much larger long-term environmental, economic and social burden on the city and Canadians. “This will have an impact in health, in education, in security and safety,” she said, emphasizing the provincial and federal responsibilities in those areas.
“What we need now is a renewed partnership with Ottawa and Queen’s Park,” she added. “And I have no shame in calling you to make sure we elect a government who believes in the role of the federal government in affordable housing and comes back to the table to work with municipalities and provinces on this issue.”