A recent blog post from the Urban Institute’s Housing Matters Initiative examines how housing policy can help address intensifying climate change through the lens of the Washington, D.C. region. Building energy consumption accounts for 74% of all emissions in D.C., while residential energy use accounts for around 20% of greenhouse gas emissions nationally. After setting the stage, the author then lifts up promising strategies from the D.C .region that can address the needs of the communities most susceptible to climate risks.
The wealthier suburbs in the D.C. region emit significantly more per household than other areas, even though neighborhoods with people of lower incomes are facing disproportionately more risks from climate change. A history of systemically racist policies has pushed Black and Latinx households into areas with more pollution, areas more prone to flooding, and worse housing conditions – all of which make these households more susceptible to the risks of climate change.
In the D.C. and Baltimore regions, many local governments require a minimum energy-efficiency standard for new buildings. In D.C., the Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act of 2022 requires adopting a net-zero energy standard by 2026 for new buildings and substantial renovation on all commercial and residential buildings taller than three stories. Local policymakers can also encourage denser housing similar to Arlington’s Green Building Density Incentive Program, which offers developers additional density in exchange for LEED Gold certification or other energy components.
Finally, the author notes that jurisdictions can offer tenants rebates and retrofit programs, such as the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility, D.C.’s Solar for All, the Efficiency Fund, or funding nonprofits to provide retrofitting services. Tenant outreach about climate change risks is also important. The author provides several examples of tenant outreach and engagement from the D.C. region, such as flood awareness policies in Prince George’s County and Arlington.