In this week’s Mountain News there is a report from Vail, where town officials have passed a bylaw requiring new commercial developments in the town core to provide housing for 20 per cent of the new jobs they create. Unfortunately, or fortunately if you are the developer, the new law doesn’t apply to the more than $1 billion worth of redevelopment underway in Vail, and which is expected to add 1,500 permanent jobs.
Despite this massive exception to the law, not all are happy. A representative of the Vail Board of Realtors said the formula used to determine housing requirements is “very, very unfair”, because the formula dictates that real estate offices create more jobs than some other kinds of businesses.
This is the context in which Vail is striving to meet its (modest) goal of having 30 per cent of employees live in town.
Whistler, which has endured its own housing battles, can sit back and reflect smugly in the fact that, according to the most recent municipal statistics, 79 per cent of employees live in town. Whistler’s goal is to have 75 per cent of employees housed in town.
And there is some justification for smugness, or at least thanks are due to those many people — politicians, bureaucrats, business people and community-minded individuals — who had the guts and determination to make affordable resident housing a priority and a reality in Whistler.
But is there ever enough? That’s a question proponents and opponents of affordable housing ask. It’s a question on the minds of the 500-odd people approved for mortgages and registered on the Whistler Housing Authority wait list. And it’s a question asked by exasperated politicians, relieved that the Nita Lake housing project has finally been occupied, impatient to get the Rainbow project approved, and adamant that beyond a couple of other projects already OK’d and the athletes’ village there is nothing else coming down the pipe.
Affordable housing for seasonal employees is another issue altogether, and the political mood of the moment is that it’s not a problem Whistler can build its way out of. Solutions should come from creative ways to use existing buildings.
There isn’t any active pursuit of additional housing projects at the moment because there isn’t any appetite to build more housing; in fact, the market may be saturated with all that is coming. And it is going to take some time to get our heads around all the other building that will be going on over the next three summers. So if we can just get through these next three years, the thinking goes, our housing situation will be in good shape by the summer of 2010.