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Workers at a housing development in Pickering, Ont., on May 15, 2023.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Mark Carney is chair of the Canada 2020 Advisory Board, United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change and Finance, and a member of Canada’s Task Force for Housing & Climate.

Many fitting tributes have been paid to the late former prime minister Brian Mulroney. Here I will only add that he championed an ambitious strain of politics, one that didn’t shy away from the challenges of the day, no matter how tough. For a young and impressionable Gen Xer like me, Mr. Mulroney showed that politicians could get things done, from the economy to the environment.

Given the two major concerns for today’s young people – housing affordability and climate change – I believe it is now up to Gen X to follow his example and get the job done. After all, climate change and housing affordability aren’t just solvable problems; there are also common solutions that apply to both. Politicians at every level of government should take note and take action.

Canada is projected to be short by roughly six million homes come 2030, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., if we hope to achieve affordability. That’s about one-third of our existing housing supply. These homes must get built. but if they are built to poor standards, or in areas with high climate risks, or using carbon-intensive techniques and materials, it could lead to 100 megatonnes of new, entirely unnecessary climate pollution a year. What’s more, these homes will be more expensive to operate and maintain, taking hard-earned dollars out of the pockets of young families, and they will be more vulnerable to extreme weather, raising insurance costs and risks to those same families. And if we don’t act, we will miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a more competitive construction industry with great jobs in the trades and our manufacturing industry for decades to come.

For the past few months, I’ve been part of a task force that has identified solutions for building the homes Canada needs in ways that would lower costs for families, support a greener economy and respond to the worsening physical effects of our changing climate. Out of more than 100 recommendations to government, four big ideas stand out.

First, we need to build up, rather than out. Focusing housing growth in cities and communities where there is existing infrastructure such as roads, water lines, libraries and community centres is faster, less costly and more climate-friendly. To enable building in these areas, we need to legalize density. It simply must be easier for a homebuilder to turn a 75-year-old bungalow into a cluster of townhouses, or an aging strip mall into a modern and affordable mid-rise apartment complex. To do that, governments should eliminate unit maximums, abolish parking minimums and allow taller buildings and more density near transit lines “as-of-right.”

Second, we need our homes built to higher standards. They need to be more energy-efficient, meaning lower operating costs for tenants and a lower carbon footprint. Every provincial government should follow the lead of British Columbia, which recently implemented the highest tiers of the National Model Building Code in its provincial code. At the same time, those rules need to be revised so that new homes are built, by default, with simple and cost-effective resilience features, making them capable of enduring extreme weather.

Third, we need to innovate in how we build. In Sweden, more than 80 per cent of detached homes are built using factory-made components. Here, we are still basically building homes one nail at a time. Scaling up factory-built housing could speed up construction times, reduce costs and fast-track climate-smart features. Other housing construction innovations, such as low-carbon concrete and mass timber, are potential game-changers, and Canada’s resource industry can take the lead. To accelerate innovation and launch this factory-built housing industry, governments should create targeted investment funds and ensure that government-funded housing projects are long-term, reliable customers.

Finally, we should stop putting new housing in areas at high risk of worsening climate effects. The most expensive home is the one we need to rebuild after extreme weather – just ask the thousands of Canadians faced with hundreds of millions of dollars in uninsured damages because of flooding in recent years. We need to be better at mapping climate hazards such as flooding and wildfires, making those maps easily accessible to developers and homebuyers, and then disincentivizing new housing in high-risk areas, unless those risks are significantly mitigated.

Every Canadian deserves an affordable and reliable home. Because of climate change, the next six million homes we build also need to be low-carbon and resilient. We should work together to deliver that ambitious outcome for everyone, and build a stronger, more sustainable Canada worthy of the legacy of Brian Mulroney.

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