This What We Heard report reflects the dialogue at the online roundtable convened by SFU’s Renewable Cities on March 9th, 2023, to explore the potential for harnessing strategically located underutilized public land in B.C. to build housing that supports affordability, climate action, and offsite building manufacturing (what Renewable Cities calls “value-added housing hubs”). The event engaged senior managers and executives from diverse public, private and social sectors province-wide, along with strategic federal government participants.
This space has varied players with unique needs, challenges, and opportunities, such as First Nations reconciliation, labour and material costs in remote/small communities, lumpy demand for innovators/investors, financial troubles in the forestry sector and fragmented construction industry voices.
Three broad themes emerged as ideas to advance value-added housing hubs:
- Standardizing and streamlining manufacturing, products, training, designs, approvals/permitting processes, and public capital/grants.
- Investing in projects, workforce training and R&D in a long-term and sufficient way.
- Tailoring solutions to unique community, neighbourhood and site contexts.
Multi-level, cross-sectoral collaboration is essential for problem solving and policy making. Specifically, there is broad support for a central office with authority to drive housing affordability and supply focussed on public as well as private land with an explicit intention to advance offsite manufacturing.
Several questions remain after the roundtable regarding strengthening fibre supply and security, transparency of technology and information, enablers of affordable housing construction, and missing voices at the table.
Whether stated or implied, participants seemed to agree that value-added housing hubs have the potential to enable B.C. to advance on complex, intractable problems facing the province, including affordable housing, climate action and economic transition.
We believe that value-added housing hubs can enable B.C. to advance on three complex, intractable challenges:
- Affordable housing and transportation: underutilized, strategically located public land parcels can be leveraged to build a significant supply of affordable housing in locations with low transportation spending.
- Climate action: road transport is B.C.’s largest and fastest growing GHG sector. Building low operational and embodied carbon buildings in areas with easy access to transit and active travel is a cost-effective climate action strategy.
- Economic transition: one of B.C.’s largest sectors, building construction, can be supported to move towards high-tech manufacturing and strengthen competitiveness, adjust to growing labour shortfalls, create value-added jobs to support small and big towns and Indigenous communities and adjust to lower fibre quantity and quality.
B.C. has deep experience and knowledge in this field. Through cross-sectoral, multi-level dialogue, we can build on our strengths and scale this initiative to solve pressing issues facing the province today.