Opinion » Editorial

A new twist on Tiny Town



There was a Whistler Creekside condo listed for sale recently. At 31 years old and 37 square metres (approximately), the list price for this unit was $415,000 and by press time we don't know the final sale price, but it likely went for upwards of $420,000. It may have been sold for as much as $430,000. And just a few weeks before, another similar unit was for sale for just under $400,000 and sold for $410,000 within a few days. With each passing day, prices seem to be increasing by tens of thousands of dollars.

It is reminiscent of the real-estate frenzy in Vancouver in the early to mid-2000s, when low interest rates created an entirely new group of buyers who could afford much more. It meant condo owners could buy townhouses, and townhouse owners could buy single-family homes. It was the best of times if you had a down payment, equity, or a dream.

Detractors maintain that this bubble will burst. And some pray for it — simply so they can take a stab at property ownership. Alas, it doesn't appear to be in the cards. Those Creekside units — enviably within walking distance to the ski lifts — sold for about $220,000 five years ago and there are a few people in the business now who predict those tiny condos will hit $500,000 within the year.

Even if you have the 20-per-cent down payment — $83,000 — to qualify at a lower mortgage rate, the payment — with strata fees of almost $300, plus property taxes, heat and hydro, it would likely cost about $2,000 per month. For two people, it could be manageable.

But what is happening is that the entry-level point is practically out of reach. Most young people can't afford to buy this tiny condo. But it's not just here. It's happening all over the Lower Mainland where condos are selling for tens of thousands over asking, with multiple and subject-free offers. It is supply and demand, sure, but it is also living the dream: it comes with — yes — a high price.

In Whistler, it is further complicated. Those Creekside condos are zoned for nightly rentals, which means a calculating investor — if renting the property nightly for $200 — can make about $4,000 a month if the unit is rented for 20 nights. Even if the owner were to rent the unit for eight months instead of 12, that financial jackpot is difficult to walk away from.

So what possible incentive is there for the owner to rent to a local? The profit from Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) is irresistible. It is seemingly endless as these rental companies show no signs of slowing, and Whistler shows no signs of losing its appeal as a destination resort.

The solution seems obvious, doesn't it? Small homes. Tiny homes that are not much smaller — and often of similar size — to that pricey condo. A high-end tiny home can cost about $100,000 or more. A DIY special can be a little as $12,000. Sizes vary, but a 37-sq.-m. tiny home is not uncommon. The District of Squamish has done a commendable job of outlining information on its website regarding tiny homes. Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman and her team are looking at how to best make it work. Good for them.

Locally, it is "under consideration," says the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW). But in light of the dire housing situation, as in the lack of affordable rentals and lack of affordable, entry-level home ownership, shouldn't small houses be the key solution? Those who work for less than $15 an hour here — and they outnumber almost everyone else — could be housed in tiny homes. And they may well be able to afford their own.

And that is the key: Owning a home, no matter the size, fosters a sense of community and engages homeowners who have a vested interest in where they live. We have that in spades in Whistler among those who bought years ago, or make more than $15 an hour. Or for whom this is their second home. That is obvious.

But for all those people on the frontlines in Whistler who are trying their damnedest to make it work in a sketchy rental and sales market — isn't it time to think outside that 37-sq.-m. box?


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