24 June 2008

Renters Dilemma: Reducing our ecological footprint

In an article in The Tyee today, we learn of a report that Canada's top 10 percent of income earners have an ecological footprint two and a half times that of Canada's bottom 10 percent of income earners.

The study found that the per capita ecological footprint of the richest 10 per cent of Canadian households is 66 per cent higher than the national average...

"Low- and lower-middle income Canadian households are far more likely to rent rather than own their housing. As tenants, they are generally not in a position to make decisions with respect to the energy efficiency of their homes because they are not responsible for the capital investments required to give effect to those decisions.

"In many cases, tenants are not even in a position to control the temperature in their rented homes."

That many low-income renters cannot control the heat in their units is a point worth expanding.

I'm one of the working poor, a renter, and because of my low income must stay in this building.

Why? Because my employment is here, the vacancy rates in much of BC are between zero and two percent - locally, it's 1.3 percent - and rents to new renters in this community have ballooned by 40 percent over the past two years.

My former landlady, who managed this building for 11 years, refused to turn off the building's furnace during the summer and kept the thermostat at 24C/75F - all year round.

When asked by irate tenants why she did this, our landlady responded: "Because the little old lady on the first floor will be cold."

Methinks it was the little old (land)lady whose comfort she was concerned about, since tenants on the top two floors - old and young alike - complained about the heat and petitioned her to turn the darn thing off! (We get lovely cool nights here, but our units never got a chance to cool off.)

We cynically concluded that this practice was intentional, to force 2nd- and 3rd-floor tenants to move out so the rents could be jacked up to new residents.

Fortunately, we just got a new landlady and she's more considerate of tenants, particularly the long-timers. Still, the building isn't designed with individual thermostat control.

Another barrier which tenants may face in reducing their own ecological footprint is intransigency and lack of imagination on the part of owners or building management.

Again, my building is a case in point.

Tenants here wanted to use some of the land around the building to grow our own food. We proposed to maintain the plot ourselves, pay for the materials, and so on. That is, there'd be no cost to the management or owners.

We made our proposal to the new landlady, who thought it a great idea.

Our landlady asked management.

Management refused.

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