Fixer-Upper Chapter 3: Stop Building Homes in the Wrong Places

“The United States continues to build – and rebuild – too many homes in the wrong places, environmentally speaking. Since the 1950s, most new housing in the United States has been build in low-density suburbs, far from downtown job clusters and public transportation. Single-family homes – the predominant structure type in suburban areas – have a larger carbon footprint than apartment buildings.” This excerpt gives you a good indication of what this chapter focuses on.

Key takeaways are:

  • One “wrong” place to build a home is a long distance from places of work.
  • Large homes in car-dependent suburbs create large environmental footprints.
  • While transportation contributes to each individual’s footprint (Schuetz notes that that the majority of commuters drive, and drive alone), so does the energy they consume in their homes. Larger homes require more energy for heating and cooling, kitchens in a 3,000 SF single family home have more electronic items than an apartment, etc.
  • A second “wrong” place to build housing is anywhere that there are increased risks of recurring damage from the climate, and consequently those places are impacted by climate change. Flood zones, low-lying coastal areas, areas prone to wildfire, areas prone to hurricanes, etc.
  • Burdens of climate change fall heavily on low-income, black and brown communities.

Proposed Solutions:

  • Homes in high-risk locations should be more expensive for buyers, not taxpayers. One idea – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could continue securitizing loans in high-risk areas, but incorporate climate risk into prices through higher interest rates, lower loan-to-value ratios, or other fees.
  • Climate insurance and disaster recovery programs should discourage risk and mitigate racial disparities. In addition to assessing the National Flood Insurance Program, the government needs to look at funding levels for the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) and FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Those programs provide funds for homeowners to sell flood-damaged or high-risk properties in order to relocate to safer locations, and prohibits future rebuilding on properties acquired through the programs.
  • Tax driving and legalize climate-friendly land use.
  • Climate-friendly suburbs need to integrate housing, land use, and transportation.

I definitely recommend buying the book so you can get the full benefit of Schuetz’s full analysis of the challenge and detailed solution proposals. You can buy it here.

Link to Chapter 1 of Fixer-Upper post.

Link to Chapter 2 of Fixer-Upper post.

Link to Chapter 4 of Fixer-Upper post.

Link to main Fixer-Upper post.

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