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How to tackle housing and climate together? Launch an 'Innovation Center' on Cape Cod


Two of the biggest challenges the region will face in the coming decades are affordable housing and climate change. Now, local organizations have teamed up to launch a Housing and Climate Innovation Center, where they’ll take on these issues in unison. CAI’s Eve Zuckoff spoke with Dorothy Savarese, president of the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative's board, about the news.

Eve: Big picture, explain what it is that you're trying to do.

Dorothy: Well, thanks so much for asking. As the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative has evolved from being formed six years ago, we've recognized that we do have to focus on minimizing our contribution to climate change, which is affecting our region, potentially, devastatingly, but also we have to focus on adaptation and resilience. And so Rob Brennan, who serves on our board and also on the Home Builders Association of Cape Cod and the Islands, really conceived this idea of merging the solutions with these two crises — housing and climate — into one initiative, which would be an incubator that would incubate startup companies. They could help develop methodologies that would enable the production of housing that is climate resilient, more affordable, and also doesn't contribute to the crisis. And the reason is because if you want to make housing that is affordable, climate resilient and net zero, it's almost like, you know how they always, say, ‘Pick one.” So we see that intersection as what we want to resolve. So how are you going to do that? Well, there are a lot of things like construction and renovation techniques. There are innovations in terms of materials and ways that things are constructed. Even innovation and financing is something that one of the companies that we talked to is working on.

Eve: And this is a center that would be located on Cape Cod. So what would it look like on the ground in full swing?

Dorothy:  So it would be a physical facility, very unadorned. It’ll be mostly chain link fences, separating it with concrete floors. We're in the process of identifying potential sites. So physically you'd have places for people to work on their innovations. But also, if you think about it, we have the ecosystem in place. So parts of the [Cape Cod Climate Change’s] coalition include the Cape Cod Community College, which, as you know, the state put $25 million into its science and technology building. And part of the goal of that building was to allow the lab space to be utilized by the community members. And so we would make an arrangement with them. And, again, we have folks from the business community, from the banking community, the environmental community, and so on. So you'd have the companies there. You’d also have a selection process for who gets in, and then they might have demonstration projects. And one of the reasons Cape Cod is so attractive as a location for this, is if you want to test climate resilient building or remodeling, this is the perfect place to do it. If you want to test net zero, this is the perfect place to do it. So there's a lot of opportunity here, even for the production of housing as part of demonstrations for these companies.

Eve:  So this incubator is aimed at locals with ideas for how to build more resilient, more affordable housing, but also companies from across the country, across the world who could be side by side testing out solutions. Am I getting that right?

Dorothy: That is exactly right. We do see this as an economic development generator one way or another, but it would be terrific if there were locals, as well, that would be interested in coming in.

Eve: What would success look like to you, and on what time frame do you see it?

Dorothy: That is a great, great question. We have some next steps that we have to do to actually form the Housing and Climate Innovation Center, including [filing] the 501C3 [to designate the Center as a nonprofit organization]. And we need to fund it. So some of the timing is going to be dependent on that. We'll need to staff it. And so it’s very early on in this stage. But once we have the framework in place, we do anticipate that there will actually be pretty strong demand for companies to locate there. So we are working in a full court press way to get this launched.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
This web post has edited to correct the contribution amount by the state to the CCCC science and technology building.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.