Our mission at PDS is to significantly improve the way we use resources for the health of our planet. Our vision is to design beautiful, efficient homes for everyone.
We spend most of our lives in our homes— spending time with family and friends, cooking, cleaning, and sleeping. We know our homes intimately—how they work and how they could work better. Most homes in Canada don't work that well from an energy standpoint and this collective inefficiency has a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions. As a firm specializing in Passive House design, we work with clients who are looking to reduce or zero-out the carbon footprint of their home by building a new Passive House.
But the fact is, custom home design is not an option for most people. According to the latest stats from the National Association of Home Builders, only about twenty percent of new single-family homes in the USA are custom-built; the rest are built-for-sale by developers who need to turn a profit. Designing and building a custom home is a costly endeavour, and one that requires a lot of resources up front—land not least among them.
The Sunflower, the newest residential development by Adsum for Women and Children and the first of our affordable housing designs to be occupied, is a shining example of how custom design, energy efficiency and affordability can come together to create safe, permanent housing for people who don’t have the resources to built new on their own. The Sunflower was funded through a combination of the federal Rapid Housing Initiative program and generous donations fundraised by Sheri Lecker, executive director of Adsum, and her team.
How Community Groups are Developing Affordable, Net-Zero Housing in their Neighbourhoods
The first thing an affordable housing project needs is a group of motivated people with a vision for their community as inclusive and affordable, where no one is edged out due to rising market prices. This could be a developer, an existing not-for-profit, or a newly formed community entity. The next big need is land. Once those are in place, seed funding is needed to bring together a team of skilled professionals such as an architect and engineer. The design team then gets to work creating a site feasibility study and preliminary concept, which are used for further funding applications and municipal approvals. Once all of these elements are in place, the real architectural design and building preparations can begin!
Over the past few years, we've had the privilege of working with all sorts of community-based groups in Nova Scotia and Ontario. It's so rewarding for us to take the skills we've developed in single-family Passive House design and scale up to multi-unit and affordable housing models. In this work, there is an alignment of our environmental and social values that is both affirming and inspiring.
Curious about exploring affordable housing development in your community? Here's what we've learned about how these projects come to life.
Land Acquisition may not be as costly as you think. For affordable housing projects, under-utilized land may well be donated to the development project from a municipality, band council or provincial/territorial government. For Sunflower Court, Adsum received a brown field site from their municipality, which had previously held a school. Land may also be donated privately in exchange for a charitable donation receipt. Groups can also fundraise or set up a land trust.
Development Consultants are individuals or organizations who serve as liaisons between the community group driving the development and their municipality's planning department. These are knowledgeable people who share the community group's vision and help to shepherd the project toward completion. They can help with funding applications, budget monitoring and reporting, and zoning and permit requirements.
Funding often comes through government grants. Other funding sources such as community fundraising and public-private partnerships with traditional development companies can also be paths to success for an affordable housing project. Here are a few of the government funders supporting this type of development in our area, and Canada-wide:
- Community Housing Growth Fund and Low-Carbon Communities Grant - are both provincial grants in Nova Scotia that provide seed funding for the initial stages of a project
- Federation of Canadian Municipalities - provides funding for soft costs such as design
- Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) - a federal grant for the construction phase of affordable, rapid development projects; RHI requires that building efficiency must be 25-40% better than code minimum
- Efficiency Nova Scotia - provides rebates for developments and retrofits that improve energy efficiency
- Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) - offers a variety or programs targeting energy efficiency and affordability from co-investment funds to grants and reduced-rate financing
Net-Zero: Where Affordability and Sustainability Meet
The key to affordable housing is fixed operational costs. Housing that relies heavily on purchased energy is much more affected by inflation and market-driven economic fluctuations. But housing developments designed using Passive House principals are able to net their energy costs to zero, effectively safe-guarding against future rate hikes. By eliminating this variable in utility cost, housing managers can to keep rental rates low with minimal risk. Lower energy costs reflects lower carbon emissions. The beauty of Net Zero is that both the tenants and the environment get a break. Sustainable housing models have a direct impact on sustaining the health of our environment.
Want to see more? Visit our multifamily project gallery to see drawings of our latest projects.