Get off our back says housing society By Chris Woodall The housing society feels it’s being tagged as the scapegoat in Whistler’s employee housing crisis, say society board members. The society’s problems, they say, stem from a lack of power… but having lots of it in the eyes of the public. "With all the crunch (to provide employee and affordable housing) and public criticism of the situation, it’s all falling on the housing society," says municipal councillor and housing society board member Kristi Wells. What’s unfair about such public pressure is that "the society can advise municipal council on how to develop employee or affordable housing, but we can’t push it, we can’t direct it," Wells says. As for the approximately $6 million that will have been collected by the end of the year from developers in works and services charges that is to go toward providing the housing, the society is merely a funnel. "The society has no authority to spend that money," Wells says, although it has passed a resolution that it be given that authority. The $6 million does not sit in a secret vault controlled by the housing society, but rather falls into the municipality’s general funds pit, explains Max Kirkpatrick, municipal councillor and chairperson of the housing society. More millions will empty into the pit as Whistler grows toward build out. "If everything goes as planned, there will be another $4 million in the fund," Kirkpatrick says. But that amount is determined by developers paying fees rather than building their own employee housing. The more housing construction done by developers, the less cash into the fund as a result, although either way there would be provision for employee housing. Wells says the works and services charge should have been vastly more than the current rates to encourage developers to build staff housing rather than pay the fees; and that the charges should have been in place from the beginning of Whistler’s existence as a municipality. It is ironic that councillors Wells and Kirkpatrick are housing society board members knocking municipal council for not giving the society authority to act. "It hasn’t been easy wearing two helmets — they’re not hats, they’re helmets, it’s been that tough," Kirkpatrick says. "I’ve fought and argued this issue since 10 years ago when I first made a representation to council (he wasn’t on council then) to put beds into the Rainbow lot (along Highway 99 north of Alpine Meadows)." Kirkpatrick was an owner of the lot. Hiring a full-time manager for the housing society in 1997 to develop and process housing projects and issues will go a long way to resolving the housing crisis, says Wells. "I get really frustrated not seeming to make any progress," Wells says, but she expects 1997 will be different. "We’re at a point where we can act." Revamping the housing society’s mandate would be another hopeful step, say both Wells and Kirkpatrick. "It’s a bit of a toothless tiger," Kirkpatrick says. Whistler’s current municipal council, however, has decided to put off making any changes to the mandate until the new council is elected, Kirkpatrick says. Other than a mandate that would give the housing society some mandibles to nibble convincingly at the staff housing crisis, Kirkpatrick and Wells say getting cheap land for housing projects is essential. Appropriate Crown (provincially-owned) lands are the natural choice, but Kirkpatrick says the province isn’t making things easy because it has different discounts off market value of its lands, depending where the lands are and their intended use.