Building Green: The Future of Affordable Housing in Ottawa

Building Green: Discussion Panel Recap

How do affordable housing and sustainable building practices align? This was the central question at our latest discussion panel co-organized by the Alliance, Cahdco, and Ottawa Community Land Trust (OCLT).

Set against the backdrop of Beaver Barracks—a remarkable example of sustainable affordable housing in Ottawa—we brought together experts to explore innovative approaches to this pressing issue.

Photo of Beaver Barracks: Hobin Architecture

Green Principles in Action: Lessons from Beaver Barracks

Nestled between Centretown and the Queensway, the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC)’s Beaver Barracks serves as a beacon of sustainable urban development. Once a vacant lot, it has blossomed into a vibrant community boasting 254 affordable housing units powered by geothermal heating.

Centered around lush community gardens, Beaver Barracks exemplifies how sustainable practices can revitalize neighbourhoods in Ottawa.

Key Principles of Beaver Barracks

  • Varied Architectural Expression: Each building is thoughtfully designed to blend into the surrounding context while fostering a cohesive community identity. 
  • Defined Public and Private Spaces: The central community garden connects private townhouse entrances with public pathways, allowing greenspace to promote community interaction and a sense of stewardship among residents.
  • Sustainable Design and Community Investment: Overcoming initial challenges like site contamination, features such as geothermal heating and green roofs, foster long-term environmental benefits.

Green Insights: Embodied Carbon vs. Operational Carbon

Moderators Ben Gianni and Paige Waldock provided a foundation in essential terminology: embodied carbon and operational carbon. While embodied carbon encompasses the emissions from materials and construction processes throughout a building’s lifecycle, operational carbon refers to emissions from building operations like cooling and lighting.

CCOC’s Commitment to Sustainability

Panelist Sarah Button, Executive Director of CCOC, announced a bold initiative to cut the organization’s emissions by at least 25% by 2027. This involves retrofitting 1,200 units for enhanced energy efficiency, requiring significant civil engineering expertise and asset management. Despite the challenges, Button said the long-term benefits for tenants and the environmental impact make the investment worthwhile.

Button noted that the CCOC's motivation to exceed typical sustainability standards is embedded within organization's core values, which aim to create healthy, comfortable homes with lower energy bills. This commitment also attracts excellent funding opportunities, as echoed by fellow panelist Brad Rodgers, Director of Development for Dream Unlimited.

Innovations in Sustainable Housing

Rodgers described Dream Unlimited's innovative approaches to sustainability, highlighting projects that follow the One Planet Living framework. Notably, Dream's Zibi project stands out as Canada's largest Net-zero Carbon community, spanning 34 acres of mixed commercial and residential spaces. The development uses the natural force of the Ottawa River to generate sustainably-sourced energy. Rodgers emphasized projects of this scale demand creative approaches to achieve the right balance of affordability and energy efficiency while maintaining market standards. Dream's Lebreton Flats Library Parcel Development uses another novel technique drawing praise from City officials, where power is generated from the sewage system via conductive heat flow. 

Acquisition vs. Development

Addressing audience concerns about affordability, Button emphasized the important role of acquisitions in promoting solutions that are both environmentally sustainable and economically viable. Aligned with the Alliance's mission to #StopTheLoss of affordable housing, acquiring existing buildings inherently yields green benefits by mitigating the embodied carbon footprint linked with new builds. Stressing the urgency of action, Button underscored the need for concerted efforts in acquisitions alongside innovative development strategies to effectively meet rising demands.

What's Next?

A heartfelt thank you to our panelists and moderators for their invaluable contributions. While that's a wrap on our current panel series, stay tuned for the reboot of our monthly discussions this Fall. These gatherings bring diverse voices together over coffee to foster creative solutions to Ottawa's housing challenges.

Have an idea to share? Keep the conversation going on X & Threads @ottawaalliance!

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