Shelter For All + Healthy Environment: Positive Partners Or Poisonous Protagonists?

solar panels and entrance to LEED certified affordable housing
Colorado Court solar panels at entry photo by Calder Oliver is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Colorado Court, a multi-family complex in Santa Monica California. This is a project of affordable homes which are also LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

From the view of, a new issue trending in affordable housing articles is the relationship between a basic human need for adequate shelter on one hand, and the cost to the environment of that human shelter on the other. We’ve established a new category for the consideration of these issues as they reflect upon each other.

When humans interfere with the environment, even with the best of intentions (such as building and occupying essential housing), it can have an impact on human health.

The famous London smog of 1952 killed an estimated 12,000 people. A need for ‘adequate’ housing (i.e. housing with heat)1 was a direct cause of this disaster.2

Today, home heating using coal fires is no longer a serious environmental problem. Industrial and vehicle emissions play a larger role in creating life threatening smog.

But the London smog stands as an important landmark of how badly housing needs may clash with environmental concerns.

In significant contrast, housing can today be built that reflects both a need for affordability on one hand well an environmentally friendly construction and habitation on the other. Witness the housing project pictured above, which is priced to provide affordable living. At the same time it has received third-party certification for its environmentally-friendly design.3

Affordable housing and the environment can play well together. But will they? Certainly, over the last few months articles have been documenting what appear to be clashes of intent, objective, and priority between housing activists and environmental activists.

Is each side searching for a convenient stick with which to beat the other in furtherance of only one set of objectives? Or can these two sets of activists march hand and hand towards a better housing future without sacrificing a healthy environment? And what impact on a positive partnership might be played by a competition for scarce funding dollars?

At the moment in California, with its extreme affordable housing crisis and a strong tradition of environmental activism, conflict rather than cooperation often seems to be the order of the day.4

For one opinion on the future of partnership between affordable housing activists and environmental activists towards a common goal, read more at Affordable Housing And Environmental Protections Can Work Together


  1. Adequate shelter as defined by the United Nations, contains entitlements and freedoms for seven different criteria. The ‘habitability’ criteria includes physical safety, adequate space, as well as protection against the cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, other threats to health and structural hazards.
  2. To view some historic photos of this event, search Google images for ‘London Smog 1952’.
  3. You can check out the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certifications at their web site.
  4. Try: Unholy Partnership Of ‘NIMBY + Environmental Review’ Proves Toxic To Speedy Affordable Housing Development