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WVHS requests housing agreement amendment

The Whistler Valley Housing Society has under-utilized units
The Whistler Valley Housing Society currently has two properties: 2178 Sarajevo Drive in Creekside, and the under-construction 1400 Mount Fee Road in Cheakamus.

Whistler’s mayor and council voted to expedite a modified housing agreement with the Whistler Valley Housing Society (WVHS) on March 19, as it opens applications for its new building on Mount Fee Road.

In a letter to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), the board of directors of the WVHS—which is a separate organization from the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA)—wrote the organization wants to expand the definition of “essential workers” who apply to live in WVHS properties; to allow social service agencies to rent from the WVHS and then sublease to their clients; and to allow over-housed tenants from one WVHS property to move into its new building at 1400 Mount Fee Road.

“The clauses we request modified would make the project more viable for the oversight and support of the clients of social service agencies and use WVHS’ existing housing stock more effectively,” the letter read.

As announced by the WVHS last week, the new property consisting of 30 units will be open to applications from essential service workers from April, with 15 allocated to those who qualify as defined by the WVHS.

The WVHS seeks to expand the definition to also include social service workers, pharmacists, and veterinary doctors.

The remaining 15 units are earmarked for clients of social service agencies. With the amendment, those groups could lease directly from WVHS, and sublet them to clients as needed. The WVHS is requesting that both social service agencies and essential service worker employers are permitted to take out head leases, which is already happening in WHA and Whistler Sport Legacies projects

Finally, the last amendment requested was to allow for the WVHS to move residents who are “overhoused” at its other property—2178 Sarajevo Drive—into units at 1400 Mount Fee Road.

The 2178 Sarajevo Drive property is made up of 20 three-bedroom townhouses, and according to the WVHS, is in need of some upgrades due to its age.

“The overhoused tenants we would like to move meet the housing agreement conditions of working in Whistler a minimum of 30 hours per week, but would not meet the criteria of either an essential service worker or a client of community services, or be at the top of the WHA waitlist,” the letter read.

Existing tenants will not be forced to move.

According to the letter, 12 of the 20 units are under-used. Some were occupied by families with children who have since moved out.

“The vacated units would be used by either essential service workers or social service clients that would be underhoused in Mount Fee.”

The 1400 Mount Fee Road property is made up of 18 one-bedroom apartments, and 12 two-bedroom apartments.

The WVHS indicated there is urgency to the requests, hence the desire to expedite the changes to the housing agreement with the RMOW. The build at Mount Fee Road is currently going through the finishing touches of construction, and the WVHS expects to sign leases in May, for a move in date of July 1.

During discussion at the March 19 council meeting, councillors expressed support for the changes, though Mayor Jack Crompton queried the impact on speeding up the request and allowing it to jump the queue for an already over-burdened municipal department.

“Anything we expedite will have an impact in delaying other projects,” said chief administrative officer Ginny Cullen.

“So if we are to expedite this particular item, based on who this would fall to and what their workload is, we could see that there would be other affordable housing projects that may be delayed.”

Councillors still decided to move ahead with supporting the request, and Councillor Jessie Morden went a step further by suggesting an amendment to waive the $5,500 application fee for the WVHS to make the changes with the bureaucracy.

“This is social housing, and this is directly related to the vulnerable needs assessment,” she said.

“The more money we’re tagging on to the WVHS bill, the more rent is going to be in the long run.”

Coun. Jen Ford said it was a “fairly reasonable ask” and indicated support, while Crompton expressed concern with making an exception for one group over others.

“I’m concerned about doing this on the fly when we haven’t actually done this before and we’ve built thousands of units of affordable housing,” he said.

Ford noted the RMOW has heard local government should take more opportunities to speed up housing options.

“Local governments have an opportunity to reduce the barriers and reduce any of the red tape that comes along with these kinds of applications,” she said. “[The WVHS] is a unique society to our community. There aren’t very many groups like them that have collaborated in the way that they have to make this housing possible. It’s a very small number to ask for but could make a difference for this group.”

Cullen said the RMOW needs to apply procedural fairness to such applications, noting even its own subsidiaries pay the required fees.

“There’s a system in place,” she said. “To waive it for one organization over another, in a way that feels it’s just from the floor … I don’t think it’s good process.”

Crompton felt the same way, but he, along with Coun. Ralph Forsyth, were on the losing side of the vote to waive the fees for the WVHS to apply for a housing agreement amendment.

Council voted 6 to 1 to receive the WVHS letter, to direct staff to change the housing agreement with the amendments requested, and to expedite the process, with only Forsyth opposed, who said as he opposed the amendment to waive the fees, he had to oppose the entire motion.