Housing and Social Justice: Moving to Net Zero Carbon

Housing and Social Justice: Moving to Net Zero Carbon

22nd March 2022

On March 9th ACT and the Community Led Housing Hub hosted a successful online event looking at how we move our housing stock towards the target of net zero carbon. ACT has been working with communities to address housing concerns for many of its seventy years; the topics of building houses which are fit for the future, and retrofitting existing housing stock to decent standards, are increasingly cited as areas where more focus is needed.

The framework for this conversation was first to look at support available for privately owned housing, including some privately rented; secondly to see how Housing Associations are approaching the issue with their tenants; and finally, to look at the opportunity of new build – to make sure that our newest homes do not fall short of energy standards we already understand to be necessary.

Emma-Kate Bishop from Carlisle City Council Home Improvement Agency shared the most current information about how the government funded Sustainable Warmth programme will continue to roll out across Cumbria. There is £5 million allocated for Cumbria in the next year (2022-2023) which will support a wide range of measures - from ‘fabric first’ insulation (inside and outside), to low carbon heating systems (air source and ground source heat pumps) and solar panels.

For more information about eligibility and what the grant can pay for use this link. Eligibility headlines are household income should be below £30,000 per year and current EPC rating for the property, D or worse.

Landlords can work with eligible tenants to access some support. They may be eligible for funding up to £5,000 subject to a contribution of a third of the cost of the measures.

The Northern Housing Consortium (NHC), is a group of thirteen housing associations across the north of England some of whom have supported a recent Citizens’ Climate Jury. It was great to hear about this participatory democracy approach from Liam Gregson, Engagement Manager for NHC, who explained the importance of the engagement process, and the strength of the recommendations made by the group. The Social Housing Tenants’ Climates Jury report can be accessed here. It is a powerful piece of work showing that when people are given good information they make good suggestions, however challenging they might be.

Recommendations from the Jury include taking more urgent action to address the causes of climate change, including speeding up installation programmes. They also looked at the practical challenges of upgrading the homes of potentially hundreds of people at one go, stressing things like clear and timely communication with tenants and contractors, ensuring work is completed to a high standard and that all tenants understand what is being done and why. They recommend that the highest standards of efficiency should be the norm in retrofit social housing (i.e. the Passiv House Certificate standard for retrofits known as ‘EnerPHit’) and that Housing Associations should be proactive, training and developing their own skilled workforce to achieve this.

These recommendations grasp the scale and ambition of the work required and clearly echo concerns of poor-quality work and advice, and a dire shortage of trained workers to deliver what is needed. It will be exciting to see how the challenge is taken up by the pioneering members of the Northern Housing Consortium who took part.

Our third presentation was from Charles Ainger at Lune Valley Community Land Trust (CLT), near Lancaster. Charles made a persuasive case for building new homes to the highest possible standards of insulation and airtightness. The CLT is working in partnership with South Lakes Housing Association to build 20 homes for affordable rent to Passivhaus standard.

You can watch a short film about this project here: 

Though it is currently more expensive to build this way, the techniques used are not vastly different from regular timber frame construction and the local building firm - Tyson Construction - has trained four of its team to supervise the Passivhaus detail on site. There are companies and partnerships across the country showing that costs can be recouped; the investment pays back in the long-run. For tenants, heating bills are cheaper, in some cases almost non-existent. This makes for happier, more settled and less financially troubled tenants, who stay longer in their accommodation with fewer voids and rent arrears. The higher quality building materials and care taken in construction suggest lower routine maintenance costs over the ‘whole life’ of the building.

You can watch the session here:

Many thanks to our contributors for taking part and engaging so helpfully with audience questions and comments. We will build on the knowledge shared here and will continue to make space for conversations about moving our housing stock towards net zero carbon. Get in touch if you want us to work with you on this in your community: info@cumbriaaction.org.uk

We are continuing our exploration of Housing and Social Justice with a look at the links between Housing and Health at our next event on Wednesday 11 May. 

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