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Letters to the editor

Housing proposal won’t work

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We read with interest council candidate Ted Milner’s press release regarding his proposed solution to Whistler’s employee housing challenges. We fully respect the gravity of the situation and we appreciate the efforts by many to find solutions that will help carry us through the next two winters, until we feel the full benefits of the 1,000 new resident beds in Rainbow and the 1,000 new beds in Cheakamus Crossing.

Unfortunately, Mr. Milner’s proposal has some challenges of its own. The $5 million in WHA reserves are already committed to providing resident beds for our community. The WHA has just completed unexpected but necessary repairs to the building envelope of our rental building in Nesters, which will end up costing close to $1.5 million.

A further $3 million is going towards the purchase and development of the WHA’s new rental building in Cheakamus Crossing. This $7.2 million apartment building will add 40 studio suites and 15 one-bedroom suites to the WHA rental inventory. Without the funding partnerships and financial assistance provided from free land, the RMOW, CMHC, and VANOC’s support for the athletes’ village, the WHA’s development of this new affordable rental housing project would not be possible. All that support, plus the WHA’s $3 million, is just marginally enough to bring the mortgage costs low enough to deliver affordable rents to Whistler employees. No wonder no one in the private sector is actively building new rental properties in North America.

Leveraging the WHA’s existing rental buildings to raise additional funds won’t work either. The net revenue from these rental buildings is barely (in fact not quite) able to cover the costs of their debt servicing and running the WHA’s Resident Housing Program. Reducing or eliminating this income, due to the burden of paying off additional borrowing, would leave the WHA in the position of requiring ongoing subsidy from the RMOW’s general revenues. It is one of the hallmark successes of Whistler’s Housing Program that it has never required support from the community’s property taxes.

Additionally, it is a sad truth that housing solutions targeting seasonal workers require ongoing subsidies, in perpetuity. Ask the folks at Whistler-Blackcomb how much money they spend each year to support their staff housing program. The WHA can’t afford this so, once again, we would have to go to the RMOW for these funds. Aside from the stress on the municipal budget there would be legal challenges to this. Since this support would only directly benefit those businesses with employees occupying the housing, not the entire business community, restrictions in the B.C. Community Charter would disallow this support. This is why the WHA remains focused on providing permanent housing solutions.

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