A recent policy paper from Action Canada is pointing out some key recommendations for helping those who are living in community housing during incidents of extreme heat, similar to what is happening in southeast Saskatchewan right now. 

One of the co-authors of the paper is Weyburn’s Trevor Tessier. He pointed out the four key elements of the paper. The first was a coordinated heat response plan to protect community housing tenants from extreme heat. The second was updating government policy, code, funding and programs to protect community housing tenants. The third was leveraging holistic lang use and urban design practises and the fourth was generating more investment to support the development of climate-resilient community housing.  

Tessier explained that heat is increasingly becoming a serious health concern, and a coroners’ report in British Columbia illustrated that. A report looking into deaths in 2021 during the BC heat dome event stated there were 619 heat-related deaths, and 98 percent of those who died were mostly in homes with inadequate cooling systems. 

“If there isn’t cooling provided in some of these places, they will continue to get warmer and warmer and warmer, and with that, the people who are most exposed to heat-related illness or have more comorbidities associated will experience more and more heat-related illnesses,” Tessier said.  

Tessier continued that the paper recommends cooling should be required in all Canadian homes, not just community housing. 

“Some have even said that right now, we have a minimum indoor air temperature for the winter,” Tessier elaborated. “We have to have furnaces that will get our houses to a certain level of heat in the winter, and if they can’t do that, that would be against the ode. Lots of research and literature nowadays have pointed towards maybe a maximum indoor temperature that could be used to hopefully guide people.” 

The income divide is also another issue, as those who are in community housing are very often unable to afford all of the options for providing cooling, be it installing an air conditioner, putting in heavy drapery that can block out the sun or even window panels or shading.  

Tessier explained community housing is there to provide safe, affordable housing.  

“When the safety in the community housing is jeopardized due to heat, that’s where I think it is incumbent on the provider of the community housing unit to make sure that it is available and that could be an option for tenants.” 

There is also a cost factor that was illustrated in the policy paper from Action Canada. It is predicted there will be four times as many days with 30° temperatures by 2051 and 2080 than there are today. The increase in heat means an increase in heat-related illness and that cost is expected to get to over $3 billion by 2050. Additionally, there is the impact heat can have on the performance of employees handling tasks ranging from typing, all the way to working in construction or more. 

“A study from the Atlantic Council observes that workers in hot conditions are more prone to mistakes and reduced decision-making capacity, which can have impacts as minor as needing to redraft a document or as severe as causing injury,” Tessier added.