Bear Ridge employee housing sells out 

60 residential housing units snapped up in under five hours

It wasn’t as chaotic as the recent sell-out of the Four Seasons condominiums the week before, but the sale of 60 townhouse units to resort staff at Bear Ridge was an exhilarating experience for both the people who snapped up the units and the people who made it happen.

"It’s been an amazing day," said Mike Cole, the Development Manager for the Intrawest’s Resort Development Group. "It was a lot of hard work leading up to it, but the whole office was excited to be part of this project because it is a locals project. There will also be a Whistler local living in every one of these units.

"It’s also nice because it’s a family community, with a school, a daycare, a playground, parks. The focus of this and another development is families."

The first phase of Bear Ridge, which is part of the new Spring Creek subdivision south of Creekside, features one, two and three-bedroom townhouses. Construction will begin this summer, and the new owners will likely be able to move in by summer of 2003.

Between 60 and 75 units will be made available when the next phase is announced, and additional staff housing projects are planned for the Spring Creek area in the near future.

Bear Ridge was a unique project for both Intrawest and the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), who worked together to ensure that the properties would go to the right people.

"For us, it meant doing things a little differently than we have in the past," said Cole. "The first thing is that it’s a 50-50 between Whistler-Blackcomb and the Whistler Housing Authority lists. The second thing is that this is the first project where the final applicants had been pre-approved for a mortgage. We worked with mortgage companies, and they’ve been wonderful."

Both Intrawest and the Whistler Housing Authority are in the business of building and maintaining resident housing, and both had their own waiting lists of applicants.

For Bear Ridge, Intrawest and the WHA combined their lists, taking one entry from each list as the day wore on.

Five hundred people received kits prior to Christmas, 250 from each list, and more than 150 individuals and couples with pre-approved mortgages turned out on the sale day. The very last unit – building one, number three – went to number 92 on the list. The sale took less than five hours.

The units ranged from $120,000 for one-bedroom units to $280,000 for three-bedroom units with up to 1,686 square feet of space.

The project will be administered by the WHA in the future, which means that all applicants had to meet the WHA’s criteria and agree to comply with the WHA’s restrictions in the future. Bear Ridge is now part of the housing authority’s inventory of residential housing.

According to Tim Wake, Housing Administrator for the WHA, the large turnout and quick sell out at Bear Ridge shows a continued demand for affordable housing in the Valley.

"Our goal is to work with private developers like Intrawest to create these residential opportunities, and to keep them restricted to locals only," he says.

To apply for a house you have to be employed or self-employed for a minimum of 20 hours per week over the past 12 month within resort boundaries. Retirees are also able to buy, providing that they were employed in Whistler for five of the six years prior to retirement.

The covenant on the land title dictates, among other things, that Bear Ridge owners can only sell to the next person on the WHA housing wait list that meets the WHA criteria. The resale value of the unit will also be controlled by the Whistler Housing Authority based on the Housing Price Index for Greater Vancouver. The WHA also has the right of first refusal, and can purchase the unit itself.

Bear Ridge owners can also rent their properties, but only at the rates set by the WHA.

"We apply these conditions because we want to keep the price low. Our workforce is growing and the opportunities for our workforce to purchase in the open market of Whistler are declining," says Wake.

While the task seems overwhelming, Wake believes that resort growth and the influx of employees to house will stabilize once build-out is reached.

In the meantime, the WHA has no shortage of private companies willing to invest in residential housing.

"It’s pretty clear at this point that if you want to develop anything in this town you’ll need to build some employee housing. The developers understand that, and the municipality has been excellent in getting the message across.

"Projects like Bear Ridge go a long way towards meeting our future needs for affordable housing."

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