Tackling the Two-Headed Beast: What Dungeons and Dragons Taught Me about the Housing and Climate Crises

Dungeons and Dragons, in its most basic form, is a game where players overcome obstacles while on a quest. Players have near endless options when making decisions, and, even though it is imagined, the creative solutions discovered offer insights into solving problems more generally.

Teamwork is fundamental. When an obstacle has multiple threats, like a two-headed beast, there are three basic approaches. The first is for the entire team to focus on one head and then move on to the next. The second is to split up and have each part of the team focus on one head simultaneously. More likely than not, however, the best approach is to work together by focusing on each team member’s role, coordinating, and addressing both heads at once.

The third, collaborative strategy is needed in California to solve the housing and climate crises. Both crises are of immediate concern, so option one is out. The second option to split up will not work either because these problems are linked. For example, housing policy decisions like where to build and how to build will have ramifications on fighting climate change. The third option of coordinated effort on each problem is the only way to move forward. Oh and these crises, unlike Dungeons and Dragons, have real consequences for people’s lives in and beyond California.

Luckily, the state has created the Equitable Building Decarbonization (EBD) program which is a perfect opportunity to build collaboration between housing and energy agencies before money from the Inflation Reduction Act hits California, a supercharged boost for decarbonizing homes. Using this boost effectively is key to addressing the gargantuan, two-headed monster of the housing and climate crises.

One key part for the coordinated approach is for each team member to know their role. More precisely, what is each member good at and how can they best help the team? In its EBD program, the California Energy Commission has tenant protections built into the program, as it should. As of now, however, it lacks monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. This is an ideal socket for the state’s housing agencies to plug in. These housing agencies regularly monitor affordable housing. They have the expertise that the CEC does not and can ensure that low-income people are not negatively affected by the decarbonization improvements. These agencies can monitor long after the program ends, and the CEC does not need to build capacity for something that already exists within state government. The CEC should partner with one of the state housing agencies to monitor owners of rental housing receiving EBD funds to ensure that they uphold the program’s tenant protection rules.

Coordination is also imperative. Decarbonization programs should prioritize state-funded affordable housing as it is within a state system, incorporates tenant protections, and serves some of the most vulnerable populations. These programs should auto-enroll state-funded affordable housing, give them the resources to go all-electric without burdening already fragile financial feasibility or increasing tenant rents, and reach them as soon as they enter the state housing system. Funding considerations should include infrastructure upgrades and costs for installation and training. It also includes layering decarbonization dollars on existing housing subsidies to avoid creating an even more byzantine and splintered state funding system. Decarbonization programs must respond to these financial considerations because if affordable housing is not served, many low-income households, both in and not in deed-restricted affordable housing, will be left out.

Housing and energy agencies must work together because each is key to solving both the housing and climate crises. If they try to solve each problem independently, they will make each other’s job more difficult, and ultimately unsuccessful. As with many lessons learned in Dungeons and Dragons, the effectiveness of teamwork applies to the policy world as well. California’s government can defeat any two-headed beast when seemingly disparate agencies complement and coordinate with each other.

Andrew Dawson headshotABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Dawson interfaces with internal and external partners to inform the Partnership’s legislative and regulatory advocacy efforts and leads the policy work for sustainable housing. He previously worked in the Senate Housing Committee as as Science Technology Fellow thought the California Council on Science and Technology. His doctoral research focused on lithium-ion batteries and storage capacity expansion.