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Climate mitigation from a renter-centered perspective

Climate mitigation from a renter-centered perspective

Diana Yoon

The housing crisis plagues many cities across North America, particularly with affordability and repair issues in aging housing stocks. Climate crisis concerns are also increasing, with cities like Toronto, Ontario and Boulder, Colorado declaring a climate emergency. To better understand this intersection of climate mitigation and affordable housing, SSHRC CGS – Master’s recipient Diana Yoon examines policymaking processes that can address both issues simultaneously, rather than one at the expense of the other. This is the crux of Diana’s MA thesis in the Geography Graduate Program, Climate mitigation from a renter-centered perspective: A case study of Boulder’s SmartRegs program.

Diana’s research emerged from her professional background in urban climate solutions in the Greater Toronto Area. While energy efficiency retrofits or “green renovations” are touted by many municipalities as a key climate solution to addressing such building emissions, the decision-making around retrofits relies heavily on technical and economic feasibilities, with minimal consideration of social equity. When scanning the policy landscape and academic literature, Diana found Boulder, Colorado’s SmartRegs residential rental energy efficiency program, which is unique in its approach of putting the emission-reduction onus predominantly on landlords and property management companies.

Housing (and climate) justice should be about the people most impacted; in this case, it is the renters. Diana’s research aims to advance human-centered analysis of urban policy, to make such policy more humane, more just, and more likely to be successfully implemented (e.g. housing-related policies should arise from and meet renters’ needs). Diana’s research starts to fill an academic and geographic literature gap by prioritizing renters in energy efficiency research.

Boulder, Colorado. Photo Credit:: Paul Sableman, Wikimedia Commons

In her analysis, Diana will juxtapose the municipality’s climate and energy goals and evaluation of the SmartRegs program with the needs, concerns, and lived experiences of renters who are typically beholden to landlords to conduct renovations and retrofits. A renter-centered analysis is critical to address the possible negative health and well-being outcomes experienced by renters living in substandard housing. In addition, renters’ concerns appear to be multiplying with increased uptake of retrofits, as tenants may be faced with increased rent payments (“eco-gentrification”) or feel resentment against these “green renovations” if they are prioritized over other state of good repair issues. 

Ultimately, Diana intends to make the case that renters need to be centred and prioritized for equitable outcomes in urban building-related climate policies. Lessons learned from Boulder’s SmartRegs program can help to inform policymaking and contribute to policy recommendations towards better quality, low-carbon rentals in Toronto and beyond.

Supervised by Dr. Patricia Wood, Diana Yoon is a second-year Master’s of Arts candidate in Geography and local climate and housing activist based in Toronto/tkaronto. Diana holds a post-graduate certificate in Environmental Visual Communications from Fleming College and a BA (Honours) in Geography and Environmental Studies from Queen’s University. Follow her work at @DianaYoonTO on Twitter & LinkedIn.