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The Rainbow Clause

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Evidently the new definition of affordable housing in Whistler is that somebody out there can afford it.

Getting the Rainbow Development to its current state has been a long, confusing and sometimes painful process, setting council back on its heels on more than one occasion while the developers themselves have bought and sold stakes in the project. Yet it’s cleared every reading, every hurdle, every last minute plea for changes to its contract with the municipality, simply because the need for new employee housing was always too great for anyone to say “Whoah, what the hell are we doing?”

And now it’s too late. There was an opportunity to grind the process to a halt at an emergency council session two weeks ago, when council decided to modify the secondary buyer clause ( only 30 of the 70 single family homes can now go to secondary qualified buyers) but it passed 5-2. Ralph Forsyth and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden were the sole voices of reason voting against.

I’d argue that the secondary buyer clause was the crux of the whole project all along — there are simply not enough people on the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) list that can afford the type of homes that are going to be built at Rainbow (almost half the units, all 70 single-family homes, will sell for $525,000 or more) so the developers needed the ability to sell to local residents who aren’t currently on the housing list.

As some councillors have pointed out, the project doesn’t do much to help out most of the more than 740 residents currently on the WHA list as only one out of 10 are qualified for the kind of mortgage needed to buy a single-family home at Rainbow — which is no guarantee they’re going to buy. That leaves the developers with one option — to offer the houses to other residents who probably already live in market housing.

There are hundreds if not thousands of residents that have been in Whistler 20 years or more that now own homes that are worth $1 million to $2 million, and as a result they would never, ever qualify for a spot on the WHA list. Rainbow gives them an option to sell their homes at market prices (ka-ching!) buy a single-family home for $625,000, and pocket the rest of that money.

Here’s what’s wrong with that idea:

First, it goes against the entire concept of the WHA, which was created to keep employees in the resort by giving them an opportunity to buy homes. There are a lot of older residents close to retirement, and allowing them to sell market homes and buy WHA homes probably means many residents will be retiring sooner or working less.

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