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Tougher covenants for employee suites don’t satisfy Melamed



In its long history of trying to make homeowners rent their suites to employees, the municipality has finally come up with a stricter contract to protect the employee rental market.

Where past covenants stated employee suites had to be created in certain homes or developments the new covenant goes one step further, stating the employee suites must actually be rented to employees if created.

"It’s a fine line to develop something that’s not completely onerous on owners but also that’s not too lenient," said RMOW Senior Planner Kim Needham.

"Because we want these things to work."

The covenant was created specifically as part of the municipality’s non-cost housing initiatives, recently developed by a local task force.

These initiatives were designed to stop the drain of employee housing in the resort. That drain is taking on an alarming pace in recent years. Ten years ago 75 secondary suites were created annually in Whistler. Over the past three years that number has dropped to about 20 each year.

One of the initiatives currently being considered by council allows homeowners to build on to their homes in return for providing a restricted employee suite.

This bonus density incentive for creating the restricted suite would be up to 56 square metres or just over 600 square feet.

But while he agrees with the incentive in principle to create more restricted housing, Councillor Ken Melamed raised concerns about the strength of the covenant’s wording.

"It didn’t read like it was going to work to me," he said, after last week’s council meeting when he opposed the initiatives.

"There’s no guarantee that the suites are going to be rented."

The housing agreement says the suite must be occupied and if it becomes vacant then the suite must be advertised for rent in the local newspapers. The owner must advertise until the suite is rented, in addition to informing the municipality that the suite is available for rent.

Melamed said the covenants read as though the municipality is expecting the homeowner to do their best to find a tenant. Instead, he suggested that the Whistler Housing Authority could step in and provide a list to the owner of about 10 people who could rent their suites.

His major concern is that the municipality is giving homeowners the ability to build more onto the homes but instead of providing a restricted suite, they’ll just add any additional floor space to their own living space.

"There are a number of really blatant failures of these kinds of covenants," he said.

"Our experience with employee housing and covenants has been a painful one."

Melamed recalled the first covenants on Tapley’s farm were "blown away" by lawyers.

With this in mind, Melamed voted against moving some of the non-cost housing initiatives bylaws to the next level of a Public Hearing.

"It is with great regret that I have to vote against this," he said at the April 7 council meeting.

"Too much of this is based on the assumption that the suites will be rented.

"I can’t move forward on a false assumption."

Needham said the new covenant has been looked over by municipal lawyers and is designed to ensure the employee suites aren’t left sitting empty or rented to weekenders.

"You’re never going to come up with the perfect covenant that makes people happy," said Needham.

A public hearing on the bylaws is scheduled for Tuesday, April 22 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Among the proposed bylaws is the amendment to allow the bonus density for a restricted employee suite as well as to allow suites in detached garages and allow detached suites in front or backyards.

The municipality is also looking at increasing the minimum suite size up to 90 square metres (or 968 square feet.)