Despite the Millar’s Pond project (85 units), the recently approved Gondola 6 project (12 units) and Whistler Mountain’s employee housing project at Twin Lakes, Whistler’s employee housing situation won’t be much better this fall than it was last.
Even with the Barnfield Farm project (23 lots) and the Greenside development of the Whistler Campground lands (11 lots with the employee covenant) next summer, affordable housing for employees is going to continue to be a problem for some time because development, which brings new businesses and requires more employees, outpaces construction of employee housing. That’s hardly news but, provided the ceiling on commercial development remains, there is an opportunity to catch up.
However, there are new forces at work within the dynamics of employee housing. One of the most important is the number of year round Whistler residents, which appears to be growing even faster than the pace of development.
Not only are there year-round residents filling the new jobs that go with development, more and more weekenders — people who own second homes in Whistler — are deciding to retire here or have reached positions in their careers where they can now afford to move to Whistler permanently.
As well, young families are moving to Whistler from across the country because of the lifestyle and education facilities the community can now offer. Whistler’s high-school age population jumped nearly 60 per cent between September 1994 and September 1995, when the high school was originally supposed to open.
Not all of these people are after designated employee housing, as some already have homes here and others can afford market homes. But the demand for employee housing is skyrocketing, witness the 700 people who entered the lottery for the Millar’s Pond units. Witness also the percentage increase in the sale price of units in employee housing projects from 1995 to 1996 — at least 25 per cent.
What all this points to is the municipality is going to have to push even harder to encourage development of employee housing.
In the past most employee housing has been built on privately held land or land donated by the owner in return for concessions or development rights. While there are still considerable tracts of privately held land within Whistler, the present policy is to grant additional development rights only for 100 per cent employee housing projects. Therefore, it may be that the municipality will have turn to the Crown for land for future employee housing projects.
But regardless of whether the land is privately held or Crown, it will likely be in somebody’s backyard. That is not a bad thing. What it will require is an understanding by existing property owners that this is housing for their fellow Whistlerites, not aliens from another galaxy.
This attitude, as much as employee housing development proposals, is what is needed to find solutions to Whistler’s housing problems.