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Whistler Residents Survive Fame

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 15 April 2003 00:00

Living in one of Canada's finest resort communities is great fun for all, except those who are trying to work there.

Since Whistler, British Columbia, has gained recognition on the international ski scene, property values have soared. Many long-term property owners are being forced out of Whistler by the increasing costs of living in an up-scale resort town. These trends, amplified by the current Olympic bid and a mountain-locked location, could force affordable housing out in this mountain community, but not if the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) has any say in the matter.

Armed with its recently-granted funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Affordable Choice Today (ACT) , the Whistler Housing Authority is intent on developing new land-use regulatory mechanisms that will limit further erosion and gentrification of the remaining, more affordable, housing stock.

The Whistler Housing Authority, formed in 1997, is a non-profit corporation and a subsidiary of the local government, the Resort Municipality of Whistler. The WHA is a small organization, staffed with only 3 employees – the General Manager, the Housing Administrator, and an Office Administrator – and governed by a Board of Directors drawn from the community at-large.

Climbing real estate values are putting pressure on older ‘ski chalets' that represent affordable housing in this increasingly-affluent community. Many of these older homes provide the remaining rental opportunities for Whistler's workforce. Until recently, these properties were also the only single family homes that locals could afford to purchase. As these homes are sold, they are typically being demolished and replaced by new high-end vacation homes that are not intended to house members of the resident workforce.

Using its federal C$10,000 ACT Program grant, the Whistler Housing Authority plans a feasibility study of proposed regulatory changes that would help mitigate the loss of affordable housing due to rental conversion, gentrification and increasing property taxes.

The WHA seeks solutions that will retain and secure housing for the resident workforce and local property owners without requiring additional municipal funding to construct housing.

The following regulatory changes will be examined:

  • granting density bonuses for creation of restricted employee suites

  • allowing suites in duplex zones and duplexes in single family zones

  • permitting stratification of single family homes into two separate homes (one restricted to affordable criteria and the other non-restricted)

  • permitting suites above detached garages (suites currently only allowed in principal dwelling)

  • enabling conversion of non-restricted market units into restricted rental units.

    These regulatory changes would offer income-generating opportunities that might allow residents to afford to stay in Whistler, while increasing the community's supply of rental housing. Proposed changes would also enable Whistler to showcase innovative housing strategies for affordable housing opportunities that could be shared with and applied to other communities.

    Currently, the private sector provides most of the rental housing in Whistler, but these units may be expensive, in poor shape or hard to find. WHA has created an inventory of price-controlled rental and for-purchase units that are only available to resident employees to help reduce the impact of market forces that are driving the price of housing out of reach for locals.

    WHA rentals are only available to employees who have been working full-time in Whistler for at least one year. WHA units with resale price caps of 1-2% appreciation may be purchased by those who work a minimum of 20 hours per week within Whistler or were employed in Whistler for at least 5 years prior to retiring. The waiting lists are long. Rental applicants may wait up to three years and purchasers even longer.

    A 2002 WHA Resident Housing Needs Assessment revealed that less than 40% of Whistler's 10,600 resident workers live in rent-controlled units, half of which are owned by employers. The Whistler Housing Authority hopes the inventory of rent-controlled units will increase to 4,800 in 2003. WHA efforts will be further bolstered by proposed regulatory changes in the future.

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