It has been shown previously in these pages that one of the fundamental principles of life on earth is math is hard. In Whistler, that principle can be extrapolated to: bed unit math is hard.
As most know by now, buildout in Whistler is at 52,500 bed units which, according to this year’s monitoring report, should occur by about the year 2003. However, last year an additional 1,700 bed units were allocated for affordable or employee housing, which would seem to bring the total to 54,200 bed units, but nobody dares breath any number higher than 52,500.
The monitoring report shows that at the end of 1996 there will be an estimated 37,800 bed units built, leaving 14,340 undeveloped. That only adds up to 52,140 bed units, not 52,500. Explanation: the bed unit inventory has to be adjusted each year because not all projects are built to their maximum potential. That would seem to leave excess bed units. They can’t be bought, sold or traded but they can be transferred to other pieces of property.
The bigger math question is whether 1,700 employee/affordable housing bed units is going to be enough. The 1,700 figure was determined by the employee works and services charge, which has been levied against new commercial development for the past five years. But that charge was levied against a percentage of employees each project generates, not the absolute number. The feeling among council at the time was the open market would take care of some employees’ housing needs and if the employee housing charge was applied for every employee generated Whistler could end up with excess employee housing.
This year’s monitoring program report recommends that an updated employee survey be undertaken to determine the types of employment and the number of employees in Whistler as it nears buildout. It may seem a little backward to some but after 16 years of building the resort, and perhaps just six years from completing development of said resort, Whistler is now proposing to find out how much employee housing is needed.
Intrawest’s Ed Pitoniak recently did his own calculations. He figures that with the additional hotel and tourist accommodation being completed in the next few years hotel staff will have to increase from the current 900 to 2,600 by the year 2001.
This year’s bed unit inventory shows there are 7,034 tourist accommodation, pension, hotel, RV/campsite and hostel bed units still undeveloped. The inventory also shows 2002 developed employee bed units and 521 undeveloped.
One theory is that as Whistler nears buildout and the pace of construction slows there will be fewer construction workers occupying places that could be employee accommodation. As well, some people prefer to live in Squamish or Pemberton and commute to work in Whistler, so it would be folly to try and provide affordable accommodation for all employees.
But how much impact out-of-town construction workers are having on the housing situation has not been determined; some stay in hotel rooms, which is not affecting the pool of affordable housing.
Meanwhile the monitoring report notes that Whistlerites are now living in more crowded housing conditions (2.27 persons per household in 1991; 2.61 in 1995), the average price of a single family lot has gone up nearly $100,000 in the last year (from $229,247 to $321,215), and the median employment income in Whistler has remained lower than in the rest of the province (for males about 29 per cent less than the provincial average; women are on par with other females in the province).
It will be interesting to see what next year’s monitoring report has to say about how much employee and affordable housing is needed.