News » Whistler

Council ups the cost of employee housing

The price to build employee housing is going up, which may entice developers to the drawing board with more housing proposals.

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After almost a decade of building housing at $155 per square foot, an artificial number designed to keep the housing for locals affordable, council has raised the benchmark rate to $175 per square foot. This does not include rental units.

Essentially what that means is a 1,000 square foot home will now cost $175,000 as opposed to $155,000.

Though it may appear at first glance to be a setback for people on the waiting list, it could speed up the production of employee housing units.

Whistler Housing Authority General Manager Tim Wake pointed out that in the two year period from 2003 to 2004 only 56 new employee housing units were built – a significant decrease in production from the previous five years.

"While there were a variety of reasons for this substantial drop, it is clear that the benchmark price had become a significant issue, and a factor in the decreased production," Wake said.

Developers have been calling for an increase to the benchmark price to account for increased construction costs, increased soft costs and the cost of delays.

Whistler residents on the waitlist will be able to afford housing at the new price, said Wake. That's because many of the units in the WHA inventory sell at a much higher price than $175/square foot. Some, such as the units in 19 Mile Creek, have increased to roughly $230/square foot.

"The WHA had actually set up a situation where locals could buy into a project in 1997, sell that unit at an appreciated value in 2002 and then buy a brand new unit the same size for less money," explained Wake in his report to council.

In addition, there could be a range of options in future housing projects, from units at $150/square foot to more than $200/square foot.

The benchmark number is based on building the housing on land at little or no cost. It will appreciate annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI.)

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