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housing fund

The development boom which has Whistler facing perhaps the worst housing crisis in its history has also contributed a large pile of cash to the municipality's housing fund. The municipality is sitting on approximately $2 million, money collected from each development in recent years that has created long-term employment. But the municipality hasn't spent any of that money because it's waiting to use it to buy land for affordable housing. "The philosophy behind holding on to the employee housing charges is to acquire land," says Mayor Ted Nebbeling. "If we can eliminate the land-cost component of a project we can make housing affordable. That's why we've been hanging on that fund so tenaciously — to buy land." A few years ago council passed a bylaw requiring all new developments which create permanent jobs to provide housing for those employees or provide cash in lieu. Almost all have chosen to provide cash, which the municipality has been sticking away in a savings account. Not everyone agrees with that philosophy. There have been suggestions the fund be used to offer second mortgages to local employees, but Nebbeling believes it should be spent accumulating land for future housing projects. "By the time we can no longer depend on developers making affordable housing available we will have the funds," he says. But with buildout approaching is that time not getting near? "I think we're getting very close to that point," he agrees, but notes affordable housing is planned for the Whistler Campground lands and Millar's Pond will be built next summer. Nebbeling adds that controlling the land is key to ensuring an affordable housing project stays affordable. If the land remains privately owned the owner can go to court to have the covenant restricting the property to employees removed, which will then bring the property back up to open market value and the owner can sell it for a larger profit. o o o CMHC last week agreed to guarantee mortgages on the Millar's Pond affordable housing project. CMHC had been reluctant to guarantee mortgages on projects restricted to employees because it felt it might not be able to recover its money if an owner defaulted on a mortgage. CMHC's guarantee means employees will be able buy housing with less than the standard 25 per cent down payment.