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Councillors rejoin Whistler Housing Authority board

Two WHA employee rental buildings expected to open this year

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Several local councillors joined the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) board following last fall's municipal election—and all three are familiar faces to the organization.

At the start of the year, newly elected councillors Duane Jackson, John Grills and Jen Ford rejoined the WHA board as Whistler council's appointees. All three have previously served on the board.

They join existing members Jonathan Decaigny, Michael Hutchison and Brian Good, along with Colin Pitt-Taylor, the community's elected resident housing representative, and Michael d'Artois, the Mature Action Community's designated seniors' housing representative.

"They're a great group with a valuable breadth of relevant knowledge, including current experience in local development and financing, hospitality, HR and our resort economy," said Marla Zucht, general manager of the WHA.

Ford, the former vice-chair of the board, has assumed the chair position from Squamish-based developer Hutchison.

As the head of Bethel Lands Corp., some viewed Hutchison's role on the WHA board as a potential conflict of interest given that his company had actively marketed its affordable housing in Squamish to Whistler residents.

Zucht explained there was "really no opportunity" for Hutchison to benefit financially from his role, and that his perceived conflict was never an issue at the board table.

"(He's) not involved in any employee-housing opportunities in Whistler," Zucht noted.

"From time to time there are conflicts of interest that appear; that's just the nature of a small community for any of the members. They're all quick to note if there is a conflict they'll step out of the room. It really has not been an issue whatsoever."

The current board is now focused on several WHA-led housing projects that are in the works, Zucht said. Two of those resident-restricted rental projects, a 24-unit build at 1020 Legacy Way in Cheakamus, and a 20-unit build at 8350 Bear Paw Trail in Rainbow, are expected for completion in September. A separate project slated for Cheakamus, 45 units at 1330 Cloudburst Way, is forecast to open near the end of 2020, Zucht said.

"When these new homes are all occupied, these new employee-housing units will have the ability to provide additional, affordable accommodation for approximately 270 local Whistler residents," she added.

The WHA is also working with the municipality on the recommendations that were developed through the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing.

"(We are) looking at ways to help stem the leakage of market rental-housing opportunities. We're also looking at new eligibility and enforcement of the existing non-market inventory, just to ensure the proper usage of the current housing stock," relayed Zucht.

With the WHA rental and ownership waitlists sitting around 800 and 1,200, respectively, new affordable housing stock could not come soon enough—although Zucht noted that the WHA is currently undergoing its annual confirmation process, which typically results in a drop-off of between 10 to 15 per cent on each waitlist. There has also historically been around a 20-per-cent overlap between the rental and ownership waitlists, Zucht said.

"We know this process will remove some people who have left the community or have found other housing options," she added.

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