SSG & CCI study climate risks for new housing

The rising cost of housing and the effects of the climate crisis are both headline news, but they rarely come up in the same sentence. That’s an issue. Climatic factors that affect the safety of our homes—like where and how floods occur and the paths of wildfires—are shifting dramatically. Overlooking these hazards when considering where and how to build new homes could have devastating consequences.

It’s why I, along with my team at SSG, am so excited to be collaborating with the Canadian Climate Institute (CCI) on research that will evaluate the potential climate risks inherent in addressing the housing shortage. With projections indicating the need for 5.8 million new homes by 2030, it’s crucial to minimize the exposure and vulnerability of these future dwellings to climate-related hazards. Our inquiry aims to identify where housing is likely to be built in areas at high risk of flooding or wildfire and to show economic consequences of status quo planning in contrast to avoiding building in areas of highest risk.

Over the past two years, I have helped to design and develop CityInSight Adaptation, a climate adaptation model capable of evaluating the spatial impacts of extreme weather events at the individual building level. We have already used the model to support municipalities such as Whitby, ON, and Kelowna, BC, quantify and adapt to risks from current and future climate-related hazards. For this project, we are using CityInSight Adaptation to project future building locations for over 1,000 cities and towns across Canada. This will allow us to provide insights on where new homes should be built to decrease the negative impacts of floods and, wildfires.

Flooding in near Montreal in 2019. (Photo: mbruxelle/stock.adobe.com)

Recent events underscore the urgency of our research. In 2021, over 90% of the town of Lytton, BC was reduced to rubble in a wildfire that followed several record-breaking hot days. Even with unprecedented temperatures and wildfires, communities can avert these kinds of catastrophes by avoiding building in areas at greatest risk of burning. For established homes, the impact of future fires can be reduced by adopting practices, from planting trees and shrubs away from buildings to choosing fire retardant building materials, to lessen the risk of wildfires destroying their property.

The urgency of addressing housing shortages cannot overshadow the imperative to confront the looming threats of climate change. Our collaboration with the Canadian Climate Institute seeks to underscore the importance of considering future climate when planning where housing gets built.

Erik Frenette (he/him/il) is the Adaptation Team Lead and a Senior Consultant at SSG. He leads multidisciplinary teams dedicated to helping North American cities tackle challenges related to climate change mitigation and adaptation. He played an instrumental role in developing CityInSight Adaptation.

Want to learn more about our climate adaptation services? Give us a shout at info@ssg.coop.