Let’s imagine, for a minute or an hour or a week, what the rental sector could look like.
In this imagined world, rental properties would be energy- and water-efficient, with insulation and other basics at least meeting current building code requirements or even stretching beyond. Renters would still pay for utilities in some way (since not paying for utilities at all encourages people to waste resources), but the cost would be minimal and predictable, and they would have a reasonable idea in advance of leasing what those costs would look like.
Landlords would have good information on the relative sustainability of their rental properties compared to other properties in their community, as well as examples of “trend-setting” properties across the country that have been retrofitted for maximum efficiency and sustainability. (New, uber-efficient properties are interesting too, but it’s our existing building stock that presents a real challenge and that makes up most of our rental properties.) They would also have a good understanding of how to prioritize investments in their property, from big-impact, low-cost steps like insulating attics to big-visibility steps like solar.
Many more rental properties would be outfitted with solar installations and battery storage.
On-site recycling would be standard everywhere, and many places would offer easy access to composting.
Tenants would have such easy access to transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure that driving seems inconvenient. Less parking is needed on site.
New rental sites would be compactly developed to allow for green infrastructure including trees and stormwater capture, and existing sites would be retrofitted to include these features. Buildings shaded by deciduous trees would cost less to cool during hot months, but still be warmed by the sun in the winter.
Neighbors would wave at you and bring you fresh-baked cookies.
Take it a step further and imagine community composting, neighborhood microgrids that enable different areas of the community to maintain basic solar-powered electric service even in the event of a broader power outage. Tricky-to-recycle items like glass would be used locally as an aggregate in asphalt instead of shipped to <<undisclosed distant location>> to possibly end up in a landfill instead of being recycled. Community support agencies would be available to assist households struggling with late bills, financial uncertainty, and other challenges in order to minimized evictions. Cooperative and other less-conventional ownership structures would become more common. Affordable and attainable housing options would be readily available.
In other words, the housing world, and the world overall, could look a lot different than what it has in the past.
Right now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world already looks dramatically different than we ever thought it could. What lessons can we bring with us when we eventually emerge from this crisis?