If you’re like me and was born in the 80s then you’ve lived through a time in which housing policies have been gutted and basically no new public housing has been built. That’s at least 30 years of neglect by politicians and society to literally build for the future; and the future is here. The people of Berlin got tired of a lack of action and have seized the moment to fight back against predatory landowners to ensure that the next generation won’t suffer through such rent-seeking behaviour. Berlin has decided to buy housing (which was organically public housing and privatized in the 90s/00s) to ensure that the people of Berlin aren’t getting ripped off by speculators and greed.
Remarkably, the city’s government has agreed. This month, Berlin’s senate said it would step in and buy three buildings, amounting to 316 apartments. Meanwhile, the local borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg would buy a fourth building containing 80 apartments, meaning the majority of flats for sale will be converted to public ownership.
The authorities could do this through an existing law that allows them a right of first refusal over buildings for sale in areas that are undergoing steep rent rises. The law hasn’t yet been applied on this scale, and even though the city and borough will ultimately recoup the costs from rent, the buyout will require an investment of up to €100 million.
That’s already a major investment—but why stop there? The overwhelming majority of units that Deutsche Wohnen owns today in Berlin used to be public housing, and were sold off by the state over the past few decades. As galloping rents make daily life increasingly difficult, many Berliners are starting to regret such a shift. Sure enough, Berlin Mayor Michael Müller promised last month to buy back 50,000 of Deutsche Wohnen’s units for the city, along lines not yet fully clarified. Renters’ associations want to extend this proposal to all landlords with more than 3,000 apartments in the city, a wish that led to their referendum plan.
Buildings use a lot of energy for heating and cooling throughout the year, homes are no exception. Harvard decided to build a zero emission “home” to test solutions that can be used in new buildings or retrofitted into existing structures. The design is smart in the sense it uses passive heat exchange and lighting while also using high tech sensors to monitor the home and adjust internal systems.
Rather than existing as a “sealed box,” HouseZero is designed to interact with the seasons and environment, sometimes rapidly adjusting itself to achieve comfort for its occupants without using powered HVAC systems.
For example, the home uses a “window actuation system” that relies upon software and room sensors to automatically open and shut windows as the outside temperature changes, intelligently moving air around the home to make it cooler or warmer (through cross ventilation and convection). This process is also driven by a “solar vent” in the basement.
A community sprouted up outside of Austin, Texas with the goal of bringing people together to help end homelessness. Community First! Village started from a Texan developer trying to help his local community and has now grown into a fully functioning small town. Anyone is welcome to join as long as they pay rent, which is below market rates. Part of the effectiveness of the community is that they provide on-site jobs for tenants; perhaps the most important part of the community is the community itself.
“Before I moved here, I honestly didn’t think my life would have anything other than being a homeless drug addict,” Devore says. He’d lived in an apartment for two brief stints during the years he was homeless and once held a steady job. But old habits were hard to break. “I hung out with the same people. I didn’t know any of my neighbors. I was living the same life, just with shelter,” he says. “Eventually I decided I wanted to get high more than I wanted to pay rent. If nothing changes in someone’s life, when the money runs out, they’re going right back to where they were.”
Like any small town, there’s a lot to do here: You can get your hair cut at the hair salon, take your dog to the dog park, shop at the Community Market, help out at the garden, cook in one of the communal kitchens. The village’s design has been optimized for socialization: There are no backyards, only front porches, adorned with potted plants, patio furniture, and the occasional bike. Without plumbing or running water, the tiny homes are grouped around shared bathroom, shower, and laundry facilities. Residents regularly gather for neighborhood dinners in one of four outdoor kitchens, open 24/7.
Singapore lacks land and this causes interesting land use problems. In the city state they ran into issues around housing their citizens ranging from land to cost. Instead of letting “market forces” dictate their housing plan (like in Toronto) the politicians of Singapore decided to act. They built housing and funded even more to ensure that in Singapore everyone will be able to afford a home.
Singapore had a severe housing shortage decades ago. But it developed one of the world’s best public housing programs, which has also allowed a huge number of its citizens to buy their own homes.
In the capital of France, the new Clichy-Batignolles development demonstrates how a city can have a carbon-neutral footprint while providing modern living. The development itself is built on old industrial lands and includes community housing, a theatre, and many other important features of a city including a massive park. The neighbourhood focusses on sustainable buildings and sustainable transit; the developer specifically designed the spaces to be walkable and ensuring that there is no need for a car.
All buildings are being constructed to the demanding Passivhaus standard, meaning that the energy consumption required for heating is just 15 kilowatt-hours a square metre of floor space per year, and the overall energy consumption is under 50kWh asqm of floor space per year.
The buildings are south-facing and super insulated, capturing and retaining the sun’s heat and warmth given off by their occupants and technology. Buildings are composed of renewable materials while other materials such as PVC are banned.
The area will contain 40,000 sq m of solar photovoltaic roofs that will eventually generate around 4500-megawatt-hours a year to supply 85 per cent of the remaining energy needs, while deep geothermal energy will provide 83 per cent of the space heating and domestic hot water, so that the entire site will have a carbon neutral footprint.