News » Whistler

Employee housing waitlist longest ever

The waitlist for employee housing in Whistler has topped the 400 mark.



That number represents at least 800 local employees who are waiting for housing as very few of the 400 applicants are single individuals.

That’s the longest the waitlist has ever been at the Whistler Housing Authority since it first began in the fall of 1998.

With only one major project on the horizon, the employee housing associated with the Nita Lake Lodge development, there’s no way of knowing when more housing will be available for the hundreds who are on the list.

"That’s what everybody asks," said WHA General Manager Tim Wake.

"What we say is ‘we don’t know.’ It’s going to be at least a few years but it really depends on when the next project comes on line."

If no new projects are approved, it could take up to 16 years to go through the list.

That timeline is based on the number of units currently in the inventory, which are sold every year. Wake explained that on average 25 units turn over each year.

But, a big project, such as the Bear Ridge project in Spring Creek, could give every applicant on the waitlist the opportunity to purchase a house in Whistler.

Wake explained that between 2002 and 2003 the entire 300-long waitlist was offered the chance to buy a unit in Bear Ridge.

"In the case of Bear Ridge (there) certainly seemed to be real demand because we sold 100 units in two years," said Wake.

Councillor Marianne Wade, who organized a housing seminar for municipal staff, council and the WHA on Monday, said the waitlist establishes the demand for housing.

"Our waitlist demonstrates a demand," she said.

"We know that we have a demand for housing. We know that we’re losing people and we need to retain that because our human resource is so sacred to our community and our economic viability. Retention is quite critical to the health and well being of our community."

Monday’s seminar featured two guest speakers, Jim O’Dea of Terra Housing and Bob Nicklin of the Affordable Housing Society. Both have been involved in the delivery of affordable housing in the Lower Mainland over a number of years.

Wade said Monday’s seminar highlighted the importance of not just establishing a waitlist, but of also understanding the needs and the demands of the applicants, and more importantly, what they can afford.

Only then can the municipality move forward to transform what those needs are into a housing form and figure out what it would cost to build that form and the incentives required to create that housing.

Throughout the summer Wake said the applications, complete with their pre-approved mortgages, have been coming in faster than every before.

Over the summer the WHA processed on average four applications each week. That translates to roughly 200 new applications each year, if the pace continues.

Wake attributes the flood of applications to a number of factors, among them the low interest rates, the growing awareness of the WHA list, rising prices in the free market and the resignation and realization that market housing is simply out of reach for most people.

Peer pressure he said also plays a factor in encouraging people to get on the list.

Employees see friends leaving town, discouraged about their prospects, while other friends buy into employee housing and make their lives here.

"Eventually the urgency (to own a house) becomes pretty great for people," said Wake.

The Nita Lake Lodge project will deliver 120 units of employee housing next year, which is the equivalent of 330 beds. The housing as approved will be developed as an 88-unit rental project and a 40-unit townhouse project.

Council has also pledged to deliver 500 beds of employee housing by the end of their term in November 2005.