Opinion » Editorial

The future is now for housing


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My insistent, flashing phone-message light rarely brings me good news, and so it was with little surprise that I listened to a message left by an irate reader.

But this message really struck a nerve. The caller thought that Pique had stopped running accommodation classifieds when the community needs the listings more than ever.

For just a moment I thought maybe there had been a printing or production issue, but after a quick chat with office colleagues the truth hit me... there are virtually no listings in the Pique because there are virtually no long-term listings in the resort! Added into this mix is the fact that many landlords post their suites or rooms on the Internet on sites like Whistler Housing Rentals for Locals, which has a staggering 17,246 members (the population of Whistler is 10,500).

Or you could check out Craigslist where you will find gems like the 300 square-foot studio for $1,300. Or what about the new, professionally designed studio suite for $2,900 a month?

If these stats don't speak to the need for more affordable housing I don't know what does. Right now 21 per cent of tenant households spend more than 50 per cent of their income on shelter costs; 44.5 per cent spend 30 per cent on shelter. Households in Whistler paid an average monthly shelter cost of $1,612 compared to $1,156 in B.C.

The Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) and the RMOW must be given credit for the amazing job done to date on the creation of rental and residential employee-restricted housing. But it feels like it is time for WHA 2.0.

There is no available housing through the WHA and the wait is years for both rental and residential. Close to 200 new beds will come online this year and next thanks to the development of housing in Rainbow (65 units) and the $5.5 million Cheakamus Crossing building (100 units). But this won't even address those on the waitlist.

Currently there are 513 applicants on the WHA purchase waitlist and 577 applicants on the WHA rental waitlist (some people are on both).

It is commendable that the WHA and the RMOW, since 1997, have created 6,197 beds and this has contributed to the fact that about 80 per cent of the community's workforce lives in Whistler. This is a guiding goal of the WHA, as our community vision has always been to house the workforce in the resort so the town is a thriving community with a vibrant vibe. And that is exactly what it is and without doubt this is part of the recipe that is Whistler's success.

There are currently 466 households in the WHA's Purchase Housing List and 231 restricted rental units according to the organization's 2016 Business and Financial Plan.

"In 2015 the WHA continued to see increasing demand for WHA rental housing and for the first time in the last 10 years, the WHA Rental Waitlist saw more applicants registered on it than the WHA's Purchase Waitlist," states the report.

In 2015 the WHA had the lowest number of vacancies since 2005. The 2016 vacancy rate is expected to be 0.5 per cent — Vancouver's is expected to be one per cent, and 1.7 per cent in 2017.

Whistler's community is made up mostly of 20 to 39 year olds — just the right age for first-time homebuyers. But let's be honest, if families and people in general see no hope of being able to own a home here, how long are they really going to stay? Not every job here can be filled by seasonal workers, and as our resident population ages in place the resort could be facing a serious threat from a lack of skilled workers in management or professional roles.

The WHA Financial Plan states, "...there remains an additional 245 acres of undeveloped municipal land reserved for the development of future community benefits."

I would argue the future is now.

The WHA's annual housing survey has repeatedly found that up to 17 per cent of businesses are short workers. While lack of housing isn't the only reason for this, having affordable housing would go a long way to balancing this equation of labour and job opportunities.

It is also interesting to note that surveys done by the WHA of tenants vacating units found that 40 per cent were leaving the Sea to Sky corridor altogether.

The community has a legacy of real estate assets, including the land and the restricted units valued at $30 million.

Perhaps it is time to make this investment work harder and use what we can of it to leverage money and develop more resident restricted units.



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