Progress on employee housing is an attitude thing
It was difficult to tell if there was any progress made on the employee housing front this week. Certainly support for the Lorimer Road rental housing proposal at Tuesday’s public hearing seemed to at least equal opposition to it, which may be a sign that the people of Whistler are coming to grips with employee housing. But that was balanced by the outright distrust of council and the Whistler Housing Authority, summed up by one gentleman who burst out: "This council is deaf to the community’s wishes. You think you can stop this project — they’ve been bought!"
Progress in employee housing is not measured just in units built but in public attitude. There is still a ways to go.
There isn’t even a consensus that employee housing — at least rental employee housing — is needed anymore. Opponents of the Lorimer Road proposal pointed to the accommodation listings in the newspapers and the decline in construction jobs as evidence employee housing is not needed.
Former mayor Drew Meredith countered that, pointing out how much of the present supply of rental employee housing is in older cabins, or illegal suites in older cabins, which will eventually be torn down. Given the value of single family lots, it’s unlikely many of those cabins will be replaced with houses that will provide rental suites for employees.
The long-debated 19 Mile Creek employee housing project was also on council’s agenda Tuesday night, to receive fourth and final reading. It was pulled from the agenda at the last minute but will re-appear at the next council meeting, hopefully before a full council (only four members of council were present Tuesday).
A number of conditions were set and reports required before fourth reading will be given to the 19 Mile Creek project. Those requirements have apparently been met, to the satisfaction of municipal staff, Ministry of Environment staff and insurance companies. Apparently not to the satisfaction of opponents.
There are legitimate reasons for opposing employee housing. It should fit into an existing neighbourhood and not have a serious detrimental impact on its neighbours. Whether the 19 Mile and Lorimer Road projects will meet those parameters is open to interpretation — but that should be the grounds for the debate.
Other arguments, from suggesting there is no need for rental employee housing to flooding hazards with the 19 Mile Creek project, have been examined and answered by experts. The more outrageous arguments, about the public process being skirted and employee housing attracting drug dealers, aren’t worthy of a response.
The arguments against employee housing really boil down to how a project will impact on a neighbourhood. That, as mentioned above, is a matter of interpretation. But attitudes toward employees and employee housing will shape that interpretation.
There is still a ways to go.