Sustainability and resilience strategy


October 14, 2021


BC Housing staff and partners work daily to help diverse communities across the province access secure, stable housing. The way this housing is built and operated has the potential to make a positive difference for our tenants, neighbourhoods, and environment.

Over the last ten years, BC Housing’s Livegreen Sustainability Plan advanced environmental performance. We’ve been carbon neutral since 2010, reduced our greenhouse gas emissions from office paper by 40% and from buildings by 15% (since 2010) (while adding about a hundred new buildings). Our new buildings are meeting high energy efficiency standards and about 50 of them are LEED Gold certified.  We’ve been consistently recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers. A lot has changed in ten years, and we are ready to take the next steps in advancing sustainability and resilience at BC Housing.

The people we serve are vulnerable to impacts from extreme weather caused by the changing climate such as extreme heat, wildfire smoke, flooding, and others. In the last few years, the Province of B.C. has launched CleanBC, a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conducted Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment to better understand climate-related risks in BC and (in 2020) released BC’s draft Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy which outlines actions the Province is taking in 2021 and 2022, as well as proposed actions to be taken in 2022 to 2025.

Within this provincial frame of reference, and the context of BC Housing’s commitments to pursuing Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and to addressing systemic racism and inequalities in all settings, BC Housing recognizes that the challenges we face in society can’t be addressed one by one.

It’s time for a new approach to sustainability at BC Housing that builds on work we’ve already started. We have drafted a new Sustainability and Resilience Framework to find fresh, systemic solutions and create new opportunities for equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient housing that meets the needs of our changing world.

Our Framework has four objectives, which support BC Housing’s goals:

Advance sustainable, low-carbon, innovative and resilient buildings that promote equity, inclusivity and reconciliation, foster communities, and perform well over time

Grandview Terrace in Vancouver, 2020

Grandview Terrace in Vancouver, 2020

This objective supports the goal of improving housing outcomes for British Columbians. We’ve identified top risks: hotter and drier summers, warmer and wetter winters, and increased risk of flooding. These could potentially impact the health and safety of our tenants, increase operating costs, and put new demands on our resources.

“We’re trying to ‘future proof’ the housing we build so that it will last through climate changes, and so that it costs less over time, instead of expensive repairs,” says Associate Vice President of Asset Strategies in Capital Assets Management, Michael Pistrin. “We are setting new targets to monitor and report on, because we want new construction to meet higher sustainability performance requirements.”

This also applies to renovations and maintenance on current buildings, so that we improve sustainability performance over the lifetime of a building. An aging building, Grandview Terrace in Vancouver, was recently renovated to improve liveability and sustainability, reducing energy consumption for the tenants.

Sustainability has been a priority for BC Housing for many years. We’ll continue to develop new tools and resources that support our commitment to sharing knowledge, providing guidance, and examples to be a leader in the building design and constructions industry. We’re invested in transforming the industry towards sustainable, equitable and resilient building practices.

Actively support the community housing sector in developing their capacity to build and manage safe, healthy, affordable, low carbon and resilient housing

Cooling room at Stratford Gardens, Burnaby

Cooling room at Stratford Gardens, Burnaby

This objective supports stronger BC Housing service programs and community housing sector capacity. The pandemic, extreme heat and wildfires have highlighted the need to further boost sustainability capacity and resiliency in the sector.

“This objective is about people. Our non-profit partners and BC Housing staff need training and tools in sustainability,” says Heidi Hartman, Executive Director of Supportive Housing and Homelessness Operations. “We want to empower and engage our tenants and households right from the project design stage through to the ongoing building operations and maintenance. We can find sustainability champions to support grassroots initiatives.”

Food security, emergency preparedness and response, cultural supports and community building projects are all part of the plan. Examples include turning underused community centres into safe spaces for shelter; providing meal delivery during the pandemic; providing over 300,000 supplies to tenants across the province during the pandemic. We can empower our property management practices at our buildings. We can share experience and learnings from our buildings across the province. This includes developing and sharing tools, training, design guidelines, and other resources that meet equity, Reconciliation, sustainability, and resilience goals.

In alignment with BC’s 2019 Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDRIP), BC Housing will emphasize Indigenous people’s rights to live in dignity, to maintain and strengthen Indigenous institutions, cultures, and traditions and to pursue self-determined housing. This will include prioritizing high quality, low carbon, resilient, culturally appropriate, and affordable housing that is in keeping with Indigenous needs and aspirations.

This objective supports strong Indigenous partnerships and relationships based on principles of Reconciliation. BC Housing operates on many Indigenous territories across the province. The Indigenous Peoples who have lived here a long time have shown great resilience. They have deep rooted values of sustainability, practiced daily for hundreds of generations. BC Housing, and British Columbians, have much to learn from Indigenous Peoples in BC about the histories of this province and the environmental shocks such as flood and earthquakes that, over time, they have proven resilient to.

Kwikwetlem First Nation, Canoe Dedication, 2019

Kwikwetlem First Nation, Canoe Dedication, 2019

It is unacceptable that Indigenous Peoples today face multiple inequities due to colonial systems of oppression, including in accessing culturally appropriate and sustainable housing. BC Housing is committed to righting this wrong, and to advancing Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

As a landlord, employer and funder of affordable housing programs, BC Housing is responsible for decolonizing our relationship with Indigenous peoples. We have strong relationships with Indigenous community partners, and we work to enhance these relationships and include the UNDRIP and Calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into our daily business practices. We recognize that Reconciliation is an ongoing process and that we’re on a learning journey. We’re committed to working with Indigenous Nations, communities, and organizations to assess BC Housing policies and practices based on a Reconciliation lens.

We seek input from Indigenous Nations, communities, and organizations on how they would like to be engaged in next steps. We continue engaging with Indigenous Nations, communities, and organizations on the development of a Reconciliation Strategy. We continue sharing information, listening, and getting feedback on how to develop and use a reconciliation strategy.

 “We’re starting an Indigenous partners’ table to review and co-develop BC Housing’s Indigenous housing policies, plans and programs through a cultural safety lens based on a jointly developed Terms of Reference,” says Michael Sadler, Director of Indigenous Relations. “We need to do more to safely include Indigenous people into all levels of our organization, both through hiring practices and in partnership.”

We can focus resources towards Indigenous-led housing projects that advance sustainability and resilience; and seek out opportunities to enhance capacity that supports self-determined sustainable, resilient housing. BC Housing will continue to collaborate with the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, the First Nations Infrastructure Committee, and others that work to accelerate efforts to provide culturally appropriate housing that achieves high sustainability and resilience outcomes for Indigenous tenants.

Integrate equity, inclusion, low carbon resilience, and sustainability into BC Housing’s programs, policies, and business practices

This objective supports aligning BC Housing service delivery with principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging, Reconciliation, sustainability and resilience and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

BC Hot Weather News Article

“The first step is to work with our organization on creating and communicating a common understanding of what sustainability and resilience means here, and how it connects to equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging and Reconciliation,” says Stephanie Allen, Vice President of Strategic Business Operations and Performance. “This needs to be consistent and practical for all business areas. We can be accountable to our principles in governance, cross-organizational management systems and employee performance.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light social, environmental, and cultural priorities in our society. As an affordable housing agency, BC Housing knows that racialized people are disproportionately represented in homelessness and low-income communities.

During the heat dome of summer 2021 in BC, some people were able to make choices that kept themselves and their families safe, while others were unable to, due to lack of resources or lack of information. Often, it is low income and marginalized communities, many of whom live in social and affordable housing, who are at substantial risk during high temperatures. Many people did not have the resources or ability to relocate to cooler areas. We are currently working with our housing and community partners, health, government and others on being better prepared for future heat waves and events driven by climate change.

Staff need tools and resources to incorporate the principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging, and reconciliation into their work, and this also extends to corporate planning and risk management. We will improve staff and organizational knowledge, competency, and capacity in Reconciliation, sustainability and resilience, and track performance. Our organization is reflecting on, and re-examining how to improve equity, while also addressing sustainability and building resilience to climate change.

“We’re setting ambitious targets to meaningfully achieve this objective for BC Housing,” says Allen. “The reporting framework will be comprehensive and transparent.” An Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging was formed in 2020 to support and advance a deep equity analysis of BC Housing’s operations, programs, policies, strategies, methods, and measures. We will work with leadership, staff, and partners to integrate these principles into all the work we do. We are committed to valuing underrepresented and marginalized voices. The Framework aims to be inclusive and collective to meet the needs of British Columbians and will bring in the voices of community through engagement.

Between the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for changes in what we do and how we do it has become a pressing imperative.

BC Housing’s framework recognizes that while it can be challenging, when we do embrace sustainability, it’s a win in the long term. It can not only save lives but also improve lives. Many solutions have a multitude of benefits from creating stronger social connections, learning about local foods, to living in housing that is safe, welcoming and affordable.

BC Housing is committed to working together with our many partners to build thriving communities.

How you can help

The BC Housing Sustainability and Resilience Framework is a draft and requires further development and input. Your thoughts are appreciated on the following questions and considerations:

  • Are there other sustainability objectives we should consider?
  • How might you be impacted (positively or negatively) by this work?
  • How can we better collaborate with you to advance Reconciliation, equity, sustainability, and resilience?
  • How can we uplift Indigenous ways of knowing?
  • How can we be accountable and successful?
  • How can we support culturally safe conversations and processes?
  • How can we connect with current projects underway to ensure there is a strong focus on Reconciliation, equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging?

We welcome your thoughts at sustainabilityteam@bchousing.org.