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Addressing intersectional vulnerabilities to mitigate climate disparities affecting low-income renters and homeowners

Addressing intersectional vulnerabilities to mitigate climate disparities affecting low-income renters and homeowners

by Niloofar Mohtat

Niloofar Mohtat

As the global climate continues to change, disparities in access to resilient, affordable, and safe housing originated from income inequalities and raised housing prices intensify vulnerabilities and exposures of low-income Canadians specifically in large cities to different hazards. There are several evidence on the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income homeowners and renters. These impacts ranges from the extreme temperature exposure in post-war tower apartments that lack central cooling systems and adequate insulation, to frequent experiences of basement flooding in poorly maintained rental basement units, to the health risks of vector-borne diseases for unhoused individuals. Additionally, when poverty intersect with various aspects of personal/household identities, such as age, gender, immigration status, race, and disability, it shapes distinctive lived experiences that trigger compounded vulnerabilities, intensifying risks.

Municipalities are increasingly proposing different policies and plans to respond to housing disparities and climate vulnerabilities of low-income renters and homeowners in Canada, such as through climate retrofits financial/technical supports and basement flooding programs. To avoid disproportionate outcomes, these policies should be intersectional and inclusive, informed by context-specific needs, and developed in consultation with lived experiences of low-income communities. However, there is a lack of studies that critically review and thematically analyze housing policies through the lens of climate change adaptation/mitigation, climate justice, and intersectional vulnerabilities.

Tower apartments at Thorncliffe Park.

My post-doctoral project addresses this deficit. I work as a post-doctoral fellow at Climate and Equity Lab at the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, under the supervision of Dean Alice J. Hovorka. My research explores the “extent to which” and “how” municipal housing policies incorporate climate considerations and address intersectional vulnerabilities to mitigate climate disparities affecting low-income renters and homeowners. It includes several stages from the systematic review of municipal housing policies in Toronto, Vancouver, and Waterloo Region to semi-structured interviews with housing and climate policy-makers. Gore Mutual Insurance will act as the lead sponsor of the Climate and Equity Lab, while SI Canada, a national charitable organization working to address complex challenges and create transformational change, will act as the project lead, responsible for the management of the project’s deliverables and leading the facilitation of the labs.

In addition to my post-doctoral project, I have broad experience of climate justice research with regards to flood risk management and green infrastructure in urban Canadian context. My PhD dissertation entitled “Attaining climate justice through the adaptation of urban form to climate change: flood risks in Toronto” investigates who is disproportionately exposed to flood risks in Toronto and why they are unequally at risk. As part of my research, I have closely worked with low-income tower communities at Thorncliffe Park, Toronto. My research at Thorncliffe Park is built on online mapping activities, spatial analysis, surveys, and interviews to propose locations for integrating green infrastructure for both socio-cultural benefits and stormwater management.

Although my PhD research was not about housing, my observations on the vulnerability of old tower apartment buildings at Thorncliffe Park and the community’s demand for affordable housing encouraged me to shift my focus on housing disparities and climate change for my post-doctoral research at York University. My research findings are published at different journals, including Landscape and Urban Planning, Urban Climate, and Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.


Niloofar Mohtat is EUC's new postdoctoral Fellow who will work on developing new research to explore how the effects of climate change may exacerbate inequalities faced by Canada’s most disadvantaged populations. She graduated with Ph.D. in Planning from the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. Her research focuses on equity and justice in urban climate change adaptation, flood risk management, and green-blue infrastructure planning. She has experience in developing GIS analysis, participatory mapping activities, and public engagement processes for advancing climate justice. She has a Master of Arts degree in post-disaster reconstruction and a Bachelor of Science degree in architectural engineering.