The Whistler Housing Authority was created in October, 1997. That makes it10 years old. Happy Birthday, WHA. Blow out your candles. Eat your cake. Get back to work.
A lot has been accomplished on the employee housing front in the past decade. Many would say not enough. It’s a fair comment. But it doesn’t begin to acknowledge the incredible uphill struggle and the resolve it’s taken to get this far.
While the WHA has grown into a gawky adolescent, the fact is it came dangerously close to succumbing to sudden infant death syndrome. Its survival was a pivotal point in the, dare I say, sustainability of this community. But when it was taking its first awkward steps, the chances of ever blowing out 10 candles seemed like a crapshoot.
WHA’s brush with death came on March 9, 1998, months after the council of the day, Steve Bayly and a handful of people with a different vision of how the town should tackle its affordable housing problems birthed it as successor to the Whistler Housing Society.
Mayor Hugh O’Reilly called the public hearing to order. The ballroom at the Chateau Whistler was full. People stood at the back of the room. At the table with Hugh were councilors Ken Melamed, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, Dave Kirk, Stephanie Sloan, Ted Milner and Kristi Wells. While some of them may have suspected this public hearing was likely to be more spirited than most, none of them really appreciated the fury that was about to be unleashed… directly at them.
At issue was a proposed affordable housing development in Alpine Meadows, the 19-Mile Creek project. The land where that lively, thriving neighbourhood now sits was then scrub. Part of the year a large depression held water; the rest of the year the depression was dry and housed old tires, litter, and furtive teenagers doing what teenagers do in vacant lots with plenty of natural cover. There were only two reasons to think twice about developing the site for employee housing.
The first was the eponymous 19-Mile Creek. A torrent of water in 1981 washed out the bridge on Valley Drive, just upstream from the proposed development. There was concern, some legitimate, some not, for the safety of anyone living in the depression, for the potential liability the town might face in the event residents became reluctant surfers, and for whether insurance could be obtained to ameliorate those risks.
The other reason to question the development was the ugly torrent of outrage and righteous NIMBYism that was about to flood the genteel confines of the Chateau ballroom. Residents of Alpine had been organized against the project for months. Petitions had been circulated in the neighbourhood and otherwise reasonable folks had gone door-to-door spreading fear and innuendo about the “kind of people” who would be living there.