Op-ed: WoodGreen breaks new ground on social housing with energy-saving project

First-of-its-kind retrofit project proves affordable housing can be both environmentally and financially sustainable

When people hear the phrase “affordable housing”, they don’t normally think of sustainable housing.

However, a first-of-its-kind project happening in Toronto is proving that affordable housing can be both environmentally and financially sustainable.

Recently, the first phase of a 10-year, $3 million energy and water savings retrofit was completed at eight of WoodGreen Community Housing’s buildings. The project combines upfront investment from the private sector, the city of Toronto and loans that are paid for through the project’s energy savings.

WoodGreen Community Housing is one of the largest non-municipal providers of affordable housing in the city. Since 2008, WoodGreen has contributed more than 200 units of new affordable housing to Toronto’s stock.

Back in 2019, WoodGreen commissioned Efficiency Capital to fund, develop, and implement a building retrofit plan, bringing in engineering firms SensorSuite Inc. and Finn Projects to do much-needed capital upgrades to the buildings. The project was funded by Efficiency Capital and The Atmospheric Fund, the City of Toronto’s Better Building Partnerships loans, and WoodGreen’s capital reserves. It has already received international attention as the first project in Canada to achieve the internationally recognized Investor Ready Energy Efficiency (IREE) certification, awarded by Green Business Certification Inc. Canada. 

Says M.S. Mwarigha, WoodGreen’s Vice President of Housing and Homelessness Services: “A project like this has never been done in Canada before. It shows that it is possible for affordable housing to also be a leader in self-financed sustainable housing.”

“These upgrades are especially important for social housing and non-profit organizations, where budgets are often prioritized towards funding critical services,” adds Chandra Ramadurai, CEO of Efficiency Capital.

The project is providing much-needed improvements — such as replacing the boilers, chillers, air units, toilets, lights etc… — to the ageing buildings.

Secondly, the project will help to combat climate change. The upgrades will help WoodGreen reduce its carbon footprint by some 250 tonnes per year.

Furthermore, the savings from energy retrofits will be used to pay back the financial loans associated with the building renovations, providing nearly $5.7 million in savings over the next 20-30 years and allowing WoodGreen to avoid approximately $6.1 million in capital costs that could then be used for other improvements.

For WoodGreen and its tenants, it’s a big win.

“This model shows that it’s very possible for non-profits to modernize their buildings,” says Mwarigha.

Jen Mayville is Marketing & Communications Manager at WoodGreen Community Services.


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One response to “Op-ed: WoodGreen breaks new ground on social housing with energy-saving project”

  1. Re: “Op-ed: WoodGreen breaks new ground on social housing with energy-saving project” …

    Maybe it is time every structure independently harvested solar energy, at least as a source of emergency power via storage system. There already are fossil-fuel-powered generator systems that engage once the regular electric-grid flow gets cut off, so why not use completely clean, renewable and free solar energy instead of the very old school, carbon-footprint intensive and often pricy solid-energy means?

    Also, it may no longer be prudent to have every structure’s entire electricity supply relying on external power lines that are susceptible to being crippled by unforeseen events, including storms of unprecedented magnitude, especially considering our very vulnerable overreliance on electricity. (Coronal mass ejections’ powerful EMF effects, however rare, leave external-source electrical grids vulnerable to potentially extensive damage and long-lasting power outages.) And such green energy, obviously, wouldn’t require huge land-flooding and potentially collapsing water dams, nor constructing towering wind turbine farms.

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