The cost of short-term housing solutions 

Local accountant drafts financial model for worker camp

click to enlarge CRAIGSLIST.CA - Camp Crunching This mobile work camp near Pemberton — listed for sale on Craigslist — could be a good temporary solution for Whistler's housing woes, according to a local accountant.
  • craigslist.ca
  • Camp Crunching This mobile work camp near Pemberton — listed for sale on Craigslist — could be a good temporary solution for Whistler's housing woes, according to a local accountant.

Anyone got a spare $2.4 million kicking around?

If you answered yes, you could be the new owner of a 346-person camp — and become the hero Whistler workers need.

It's unrealistic for an individual to buy the camp — located north of Pemberton and listed for sale on Craigslist — but it would be feasible for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), according to local accountant John Walker.

Walker has been a chartered accountant for more than four decades, and currently sits on the Community Foundation of Whistler board of directors.

When he saw the camp was for sale, he put together a financial model for its potential purchase.

"I think the muni borrows much more cheaply than I put in the financial model, but I used 2.5 per cent... if you did a 25-year amortization and it was a $2 million purchase price, the capital cost and amortization and interest would be $168 per suite, per bed, for 320 beds, and if they pay the full price it's $215," Walker said.

"Those are very doable numbers, I think."

The camp could be assembled in Cheakamus Crossing — or possibly by the tennis courts near the village — on a temporary basis, Walker said, and sold off when it's no longer needed.

"I'm no expert at all, I've never built a thing in my life, but it's available (and) it's not far away, " he said.

Walker said he sent his financial model to the RMOW, but hadn't yet received a response (Whistler's mayor and council are at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Victoria this week).

At the Sept. 20 council meeting, Acting Mayor Jen Ford announced council has asked staff to come back in the coming weeks with additional recommendations around housing.

She also asked for community members with ideas around housing — like Walker and his financial model — to bring them to council.

While staff works on potential solutions, two new housing complexes are in the works in Whistler.

The Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) building in Cheakamus Crossing is expected to be completed by mid-2017, said WHA general manager Marla Zucht.

The three-storey, 100-bed building is valued at about $7.5 million.

Funding is a partnership between the RMOW (which provided the land, estimated at $1.2 million), $3 million in equity being provided by the WHA and the RMOW's employees works and services reserve and the remaining construction funding being borrowed from the Municipal Finance Authority until long-term financing is secured when the project is done.

"We will not begin to sign leases until we are much further along in the construction of the building to know what the actual rental rates will be," Zucht said in an email.

"It is much too early in the construction process (and expenditures) at this time."

The WHA will be looking to secure leases for the building next spring, Zucht said, and will work its way through the WHA waitlist in doing so.

The waitlist is over 500 names long.

The WHA has also started discussions with the RMOW and Whistler Development Corp., around an adjacent Cheakamus Crossing site for another employee housing rental project.

The current building will make use of all WHA capital reserves, which means alternative sources of funding will need to be secured for future projects, Zucht said.

"Each apartment building is in the $7.5 to $8 million realm," she said.

"The WHA has applied for some additional capital funding for new affordable housing projects from the province."

The WHA is also considering a lot in Rainbow for restricted housing, she added.

There's also the 65 rental units above Rainbow Commercial Plaza, which are WHA inventory but being managed by Mountain Country Property Management.

The rental units, which were all leased out in a matter of a couple weeks earlier, consist of six studios, 29 one bedrooms and 30 two bedrooms.

Occupancy is expected for Oct. 1.

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