Ottawa Community Housing’s unique environmental strategy wins Clean50 Award

There’s something special happening at Ottawa Community Housing.

Earlier this year, Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) finished a transformation of four townhouses on Presland Road in the city’s east end. Workers installed solar panels, covering the expansive roofs, and swapped out the energy-zapping mechanical systems for more efficient heat pumps models. The ‘building envelope’ of the townhouses was transformed, enabling the homes to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter with less energy required.

This townhouse retrofitting project offers deep energy savings by achieving net-zero energy and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. But for OCH, it’s just the beginning. Over the next ten years OCH will be undertaking deep retrofits to more than 1,000 units incorporating the lessons learned from the PEER project.

The organization’s efforts to provide safe and inclusive housing, coupled with pioneer environmental initiatives, won OCH the 2022 Clean50 Vancity Community Investment Bank Community Champion award.

Facing a “wave” of repairs, a ten-year plan to green OCH’s housing stock

“Over the past ten years, we have identified that we had this wave of about $600 million in deferred maintenance that was coming up,” said Daniel Dicaire, OCH’s Manager of Conservation and Sustainability. Buildings, such as the four-townhouse complex on Presland Road, were built in the 1960s and ‘70s. They had good bones but needed some upgrades.

“It started to dawn on us that if we did this right — if we did it once with a deep energy retrofit — then we could not only meet capital repair requirements, and hit our climate goals, but also improve the affordability of these assets,” said Dicaire.

In the years that followed, OCH developed a replicable and scalable process for retrofitting, identifying which properties to divest, which to repair, and which to redevelop. This strategy is ambitious, but as Dicaire explained, it makes keen business, environmental, and human sense.

In 2016 and 2017, with the support of federal government partners, OCH invested over $30 million in green retrofits for buildings across the city, replacing old lights, roofs, and mechanical systems.

Turning “energy hogs” into homes that inspire pride

With aging infrastructure and energy costs on the rise, the retrofits are saving OCH a fair amount of money. The organization’s existing projects generate more than $5.5M annually in savings and revenues. These savings have allowed OCH to invest in increasing Ottawa’s affordable housing stock — a much needed move at a time when cost-effective rentals are increasingly difficult to find in the nation’s capital.

Dicaire cites the example of the 4-unit property on Presland Road in the city’s east end to explain the savings. “This particular retrofit has a 60-year outlook,” he said. “You’re spending a lot of money today, but you’re going to recover that cost over the first thirty years. And then in the next thirty years, that’s when it starts to generate savings and positive cash flows.”

Fully-renovated four-townhouse OCH property on Presland Road in Ottawa’s east end

Besides supporting affordable housing, the retrofit has a great impact on the planet. The four-unit complex generates as much energy as the building consumes annually — a target well-aligned with the city of Ottawa’s climate change goals.

Additionally, the retrofits offer tenants considerable benefits. According to Dicaire, the renovations offer the residents improved air quality, more comfort, and a considerable “pride of place.”

“You can imagine that if a building has been around for sixty years, there would be a couple of things that need improvement. And now, [because of the retrofits] you’ve got this very nice-looking, brand-new building envelope that’s really aesthetically pleasing,” he says.

The largest passive house in Canada

For the OCH team, the next project on the horizon is even more ambitious than the last. Through the project, OCH is transforming 26 townhomes into 140 units of energy-efficient housing. They’re achieving this metamorphosis through the addition of a 108-unit, six-storey high rise on the property — a complex that will be the largest-ever residential passive house built in Canada at the time of completion — and by increasing the density of the townhomes.

Similar to the east Ottawa townhome initiative, this project makes good economic sense for OCH, will improve the quality of life for the tenants, and will support a greener planet.

“Over time, we realized that you had to take sustainability into account when planning for affordability. If you don’t, you’re actually just robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says Dicaire. “So now we’re bringing that holistic approach, looking at everything from a sustainable point of view, making sure we’re thinking about how things are going to look like in 30 years.”

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At VCIB we offer specialized lending for multiple energy efficiency retrofit projects and renewable energy solutions. If you’re seeking funding for an affordable housing project, learn more about VCIB’s offerings by visiting our Social Purpose Real Estate site, or reach out to our team directly to discuss opportunities.

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