Climate Conversations: A Reflection on Climate Action in the Community Development Field

Climate Conversations: A Reflection on Climate Action in the Community Development Field

May 2022
Neha Chinwalla

Growing up, I thought climate change was only about protecting the natural world – saving polar bears, hugging trees, and recycling instead of throwing it in the trash. Now, as I wrap up my bachelor’s degree in environmental science at Boston University and my year-long climate policy internship with MACDC, I have a very different perspective.    

The climate crisis is not an isolated issue. Our world does not operate in silos, and the greatest problems we are facing are no different. Housing justice, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental justice are all connected. My time at MACDC has revealed this to me even more. 

From speaking with our members, to collaborating with LISC Boston and New Ecology, to having the opportunity to join policy coalitions, I have learned about the community development field and the important role it plays in making a better future. In particular, I have gained a deeper understanding of green buildings as a way of simultaneously remedying the housing crisis and the climate crisis. As we noted in our testimony in favor of the HERO bill, which would double the deeds excise tax to raise money to address both the climate and housing crises in MA, “Climate and housing are pressing, interrelated issues our Commonwealth is facing today. We have the technical solutions to build more resilient, affordable, and healthy housing; we just need the resources to scale up these efforts. CDCs and other affordable housing providers are leading the way.” 

Similarly, our coalition’s letter to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means, requesting $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to create the Zero Carbon Renovation Fund, now has 104 organizational signatories, representing over 43,000 units of affordable housing. The two million existing buildings across the Commonwealth contribute almost one third of Massachusetts’ emissions. With this in mind, the Coalition is proposing an allocation of funds to support retrofits of existing buildings to reduce emissions, improve public health, and provide climate resilience.  

Through these coalitions and advocacy opportunities, I have been inspired, working with and learning from passionate experts like Emily Jones, the Senior Program Officer for LISC Boston's Green Homes and Green Jobs Initiative. “For me, climate action means advocating for all people to enjoy a safe, healthy, and beautiful environment where they can meaningfully contribute to a just society and regenerative economy. I advocate because I want everyone to be able to live in a healthy, green home they can afford, and work and play in ways that are healing to the earth,” Emily said. “At its core, I see climate action as a way of furthering racial justice and economic justice.” 

Knowing we have the solutions to decarbonize our building sector and provide healthier homes for more people gives me hope for the future, especially after having the opportunity to work with people across the Commonwealth who are dedicating their careers to this fight. As I go forward with my next steps, moving across the country to pursue my Master of Urban Planning at the University of Washington, I will forever be thankful to MACDC, our members and partners, and all I have learned from living and working in Massachusetts these past few years, for providing me a foundation to join them in creating a more equitable, sustainable tomorrow.