An eager crowd of over 100 turned out to talk about sustainable and affordable housing at Oso Negro Coffee House in Nelson on Nov 22. 

“There’s a real passion to create housing solutions,” said John Alton, who organized this first in a series of West Kootenay EcoSociety Conversation Cafes. Upcoming Café events will cover forestry, energy, food systems and other topics.

 “It was great to have a mix of presenters,” one participant commented. The Café had speakers from the Nelson Housing Society, Nelson City Council and planning as well as a tiny house builder, a “PassiveHouse” designer and a backyard house builder.

Jenny Robinson, director of Nelson Housing and CARES talked about the need for affordable housing. She highlighted how difficult it can be to get the money needed to fund housing to people on social assistance who only get $375/month for housing. Dave Wahn, City of Nelson Manager of Development Services & Sustainability echoed how Nelson City does not have the resources of Vancouver or Kelowna to fund affordable housing projects and that it can only be done through partnerships. 

Dave Wahn also said density was the key to affordable housing and that Nelson needs the density and the tax revenue it brings to fund projects like our water system upgrades. He pointed out that backyard homes are a way of adding density  that uses existing land at little extra cost. This concept drew questions from many people who were interested in composting toilets, sewer hook up and costs. Dave Wahn said “Backyard homes sound great but maybe talk to your neighbours first.”

Tom Clegg presented the simple tiny home solution: buildings under 108 square feet don’t require city permits. Just slide it off the trailer into place and you have an extra bedroom or a potential self-contained unit. 

Moving up a notch, local designer Lukas Armstrong, made a case for his “PassiveHouse” triplex in Blewett. Lukas pointed out that affordable sustainable solutions needs to be built right to start with. “Build small. If sustainable housing costs 10% more, build 10% less.” He plans to live in just 600 sq ft with his wife and child. 

“There is a trend among younger generations to build or buy smaller,” Lukas said. “A PassiveHouse using 90 percent less energy than standard construction is one of the most sustainable choices a homebuyer can make.”

Paula Kiss gave an excellent summation for the audience on sustainable housing. As she put it,  “Sustainable housing has to work for people, for cost, comfort, walkable from town and aesthetics. It’s got to work for the environment, so it must be low impact. It also has to work for the economy and generate some money through employment from local labour and materials.”

Towards the end of the evening, participants grouped to converse and come up with solutions to our dilemma. Some ideas were: lower the cost for homeowners to put in suites; encourage people to rent out empty suites or bedrooms; create community heating systems such as geo-thermal; create cohousing in Nelson; encouraging more shared living; and learning to collaborate, live together and get along.

With this Cafe we’re talking about what we can do to live in harmony with our environment,” says John Alton. “Now we’ll take the conversation even further.” Check the details of upcoming Conversation Cafes.


Lukas Armstrong, PassiveHome designer:

Seth Reidi, Tiny Home builder, 250-551-1947

Jenny Robinson, Nelson CARES Society Executive Director

Paula Kiss, The Building Tree

Dave Wahn, City of Nelson Manager of Development Services & Sustainability

The full audio of the event will be posted as soon as it is available.