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At Monday’s council meeting the Whistler Housing Authority formally announced it was turning down the opportunity to purchase units in the 19 Mile Creek resident employee housing project.

At Monday’s council meeting the Whistler Housing Authority formally announced it was turning down the opportunity to purchase units in the 19 Mile Creek resident employee housing project. The WHA decided not to purchase any units after chamber of commerce businesses were given the first opportunity to purchase, and most declined. To be clear, these are the three-bedroom, apartment style units that, it was thought, chamber businesses would buy to rent to their employees. The townhouse units in the project have all been sold to residents. And that is likely what will happen with the remaining, apartment style units. Most of the units that have sold have been purchased by people who intend to live in them. So what is the message here? Is there enough employee housing? Why wouldn’t local businesses or the WHA buy some of the units? One question at a time. The WHA didn’t buy any units because it is in the business of getting housing built, and to use some of its budget to buy units that are going to be built anyway would mean other projects couldn’t be built. Why chamber of commerce businesses declined to purchase units to rent to their employees is more complex. It’s likely a combination of lack of awareness, cost, no one business leading the way, and perhaps time, given that the units were offered during the busiest winter in history. The size of the apartment units — they are all three bedrooms — and price may be a factor, too. If there had been some studios or one- and two-bedroom units there might have been more interest from businesses. All of which doesn’t mean the demand for employee housing has been met. The demand for three-bedroom units may have been met, at least for the time being, but the WHA is firm in its position that more employee housing is needed, particularly long-term rental housing. The Lorimer Road project will help meet that demand, as will the Nesters Hill project, if approved, and the Beaver Flats project. So how much employee housing will ultimately be needed? In very rough numbers, the WHA has estimated that there will be about 15,000 employees working in Whistler at buildout, and about 12,000 will need to be housed in Whistler. The WHA is hoping the pool of employee restricted housing will be 25-30 per cent of the 12,000 total. Currently there are between 400 and 500 properties (of various sizes) with employee restrictive covenants on title. By these estimates, Whistler needs to add about 500 beds per year to reach its goal of 3,000-3,600 employee restricted beds. In the winter of 1997-98 the WHA estimates the resort needed 12,000 employees, including business owners, and believes about 10,000 were housed in Whistler. How many were adequately housed is another issue. The WHA estimates are rough, but they were generated through employee and employer surveys, rather than from the census. Another survey will be conducted this summer to update the information. There are a couple of other factors to consider. The housing authority is trying to operate on two fronts: on the ownership side it is trying to provide housing below market value; on the rental side rents are generally at market value, and therefore not competing with home owners who are trying to rent suites in their houses. But adding to the pool of rental stock helps to keep prices in the rental market honest. The other factor is that as Whistler reaches buildout many of the older cabins will be torn down to make way for new houses worthy of $350,000 lots. That likely means some of the current rental stock will be lost. The message from the WHA to residents who are renting: put your name on their waiting list.