Housing challenges brought on by more than nightly rentals 

Local developer builds rental complex in Pemberton

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.VIDORRALIFE.COM - Rental Plan A rendering of Vidorra Life's Radius building, which is being constructed in Pemberton. Developer Rod Nadeau would like to build more in Whistler.
  • photo courtesy of www.vidorralife.com
  • Rental Plan A rendering of Vidorra Life's Radius building, which is being constructed in Pemberton. Developer Rod Nadeau would like to build more in Whistler.

There's something a bit off about Livvie Hous.

The first red flag is her Facebook profile — seven friends and a grainy profile pic, which a reverse image search loosely connects to a D-list celebrity.

But the real giveaway is that name — there's something unmistakably "cozy" about it — though it may not be clear until you consider the Facebook group to which it's attached.

"Livvie Hous" is the alias adopted by the administrator of the "Whistler Illegal AirBNB Reporting" group, dedicated to finding and reporting illegal nightly rentals in the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).

"While I don't think cracking down on illegal AirBNBs is the only solution to this problem, even an increase of 10 to 15 units into the rental pool in the current climate would make a difference," Livvie told Pique, in a Facebook message (Pique has agreed to keep Livvie's true identity hidden).

"The properties were zoned the way they were for a reason. Going by the age of some reviews on certain properties, which in some cases are a few years old, it seems that RMOW bylaw has not been taking proactive action in ensuring these illegal nightly rental units are being fined and potentially re-entering the pool of long-term rentals for which they are properly zoned.

"This group is about making sure they have no excuses. They're being emailed exact addresses and linked directly to the booking sites."

Acting Mayor Jen Ford said she's had a look at the group, and feels it is encouraging a "valuable discussion."

"I also appreciate that they are directing people to the correct course of reporting to get that information to the (RMOW) so that we can follow up on these situations," Ford said.

Suspected illegal nightly rentals can be reported to RMOW bylaw services at 604-935-8280 or bylawservices@whistler.ca.

To make a formal complaint to Bylaw Services, people must provide their full name, address and phone number.

Most of Whistler's residentially zoned properties (RS, RM, RR and RSE zones) do not allow nightly rentals, though many nightly rentals are operating legally under other local zoning.

But online rentals are just one piece of Whistler's scattered housing puzzle.

HOMESALE TRENDS A MAJOR CONTRIBUTER

Back in the late '70s, Ann Chiasson of RE/MAX Sea to Sky was at a council meeting where Whistler Village was being planned.

"I said, 'We have to build some more rental apartment buildings,' and someone at the meeting said, 'Oh, we don't have an employee problem,'" Chiasson recalled this week.

"And I said, 'but look what you're building, and look how many people are going to have to come here to work here... we need to plan some apartment buildings, because not everybody aspires to own.'"

Chiasson's prescience regarding the importance of employee housing aside, there are many people aspiring to own in Whistler these days.

"What's happening is we've had an increase in home sales, in the number of home sales, but also pricing has gone up, so when people perceive that this is the time to cash in on their property, then they're kind of going, 'Well, maybe we should take advantage of it,'" Chiasson said.

"I'm seeing that. I've got three of them (right now) that have been here a long time and they're looking at opportunity... they're betting on more of a sure thing."

And when the keys change hands, the new owners may not be as willing to rent long term in the community, if at all.

"That is one thing that is contributing to the housing challenge right now, is the transition from older homes and older owners who may have had suites or may have rented their homes... to a newer group of people who are looking to participate more in what the community offers, and probably aren't as interested in renting given the prices that they're paying for the properties," said Pat Kelly of the Whistler Real Estate Company.

"The challenge with Whistler is that it's not a big marketplace, and if there were 50 transactions like that... there's probably then 300 or 400 pillows that aren't available for rental now that were two years ago, and there's no place for them to go because we haven't been ahead of the curve on providing rental accommodation."

Much like she did at that council meeting all those years ago, Chiasson points to the obvious answer.

"What we need in Whistler, quite frankly, are rental apartments," she said.

The QUEST FOR AFFORDABLE, EMPLOYEE HOUSING

Around the same time Chiasson was making her early appeal for rental apartments, Rod Nadeau was starting his local career as a builder.

"I've been building in Whistler since '77, and we've done a number of housing projects including Rainbow and a number of other Whistler Housing Authority projects in the past as well," Nadeau said.

With all of the talk about housing in recent weeks, Nadeau felt compelled to reach out to Pique.

"I'm one of the guys doing something about it," he said.

Through his development company Vidorra Life, Nadeau is about to pour the foundation for a 45-unit, affordable renting complex in Pemberton. Nadeau said he submitted his application to the Village of Pemberton in mid-April, and the roof will be on the complex by Christmas.

The plan is to make it available to local business owners before the general public.

And he'd like to do the same for Whistler.

"We would put one of these up in Cheakamus in a heartbeat. We have the plans, we have the engineering, we have it all done," he said.

"We're going to be professional landlords. You're not going to get kicked out because we're renting to Airbnb. Your rent is not going to increase wildly because one day I woke up and wanted more money. And we're going to build it to the PassiveHaus standard, and put $250,000 worth of photovoltaic power generation on the roof so we can get it to as close to net-zero energy as we can get it, and we're going to include heat, light, hot water and Internet, in your base rent, so that's what you pay."

So what's stopping him?

Nadeau says he approached Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden about it six months ago, and was told the RMOW "had it well in hand and didn't need anything here."

"I could build 10 of these in Whistler, and you know what? They'd all be full. And people taking advantage of the kids and people who have to rent here would end. And you know what? I don't need a dime from the WHA. I don't need a subsidy from the province or the government. All I need is, you know, give us a little bit of land in Cheakamus and get out of the way."

Wilhelm-Morden was not available for comment before Pique's deadline, but RMOW Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey said the municipality has not received any specific application from Nadeau.

"I'm not familiar with his project in Pemberton, so it's hard for us to comment on its viability. It's the first I've heard of it," Furey said.

"I'm really encouraged that he's looking to build some more rental opportunities in Pemberton, but it's hard to comment on how applicable that would be to Whistler. We have a different market, different zoning, different arrangements than Pemberton."

THE AIRBNB ISSUE

Much has been made over the effects that Airbnb is having on housing availability, both in Whistler and beyond the bubble.

The District of Tofino made headlines earlier this year when its council passed a motion to "crack down" on unlicensed short-term rentals.

But CAO Bob MacPherson — who previously held various planning and management positions with the RMOW — shies away from that term.

"Really it's looking at... do people who are operating have business licences and are they zoned for what they're doing?" he said.

"And then we started compiling lists of what's out there, where rentals are occurring, and trying to reconcile that with zoning and who has a business licence right now."

Tofino will be sending letters to non-compliant property owners asking for cooperation, with increased enforcement in the works for those who choose not to comply.

"At this point we're kind of in dialogue mode trying to find out, you know, is there kind of a win-win here, and we're hoping that there is," MacPherson said.

"And so there will be, in the end, some folks who decide, look, I'm just not going to comply with any regulation, and those will become the focus of more direct enforcement in the coming years."

The RMOW is methodically working its way to a similar conclusion.

The municipality is in the early stages of its Tourist Accommodation Review, of which one of the stated objectives is to prohibit nightly rentals in residential areas.

There's also a review of neighbourhood "form and character" that has arisen out of the Illegal Spaces Task Forces Committee.

"Both of those will go out and engage community members, engage businesses, looking at our accommodation base and how it's working, and how we can improve it," Furey said.

"So we're really taking a comprehensive and evidence-based perspective on getting information around what's happening now, which, we're all aware of the challenges, but (we're) trying to understand what mechanisms we have to make some informed changes in the future."

Though the work is ongoing, the RMOW hopes to have more information to share in the coming months.

Do you have a story idea related to housing? Email bdupuis@piquenewsmagazine.com or call 604-938-0202.

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