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Second homeowners a vital piece of Whistler's economy

Over three quarters of Whistler's real estate is owned by second homeowners or investors

It can be easy to overlook the huge impact second homeowners have on Whistler.

While they make up only one per cent of Whistler's annual population equivalent of 28,500, and one per cent of the resort's yearly total spending, according to the municipality's recent Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) draft report, second homeowners are an essential part of Whistler, providing thousands of dollars in charitable contributions each year, particularly through the non-profit American Friends of Whistler (AFOW).

With 74 per cent of Whistler's tax folios with mailing addresses outside of the resort in 2011, according to BC Assessment files, second homeowners also play a vital role in supporting municipal services and amenities through annual property tax contributions. Property taxes, which are assessed based on property value, make up nearly $34 million of the roughly $405 million in annual tax revenues generated by Whistler spending, according to the EPI report.

"With that much property being owned by people that live outside of Whistler, it just goes to show the importance of those investors and second homeowners and their investment in Whistler," said Dan Wilson, planning specialist for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability. "The services we have here may be a bit broader than you would get in a typical community of 10,000 because there's more people contributing to the tax base."

Second homeowners who spend a significant amount of time in Whistler contribute through their own spending, said Wilson, while property owners who've never stepped foot in the resort are more likely to draw visitor dollars.

"To some degree, the investor that owns a place, especially a property with a covenant that it has to be in the rental pool, they're all providing taxes to our community and paying that way," he said. "The second homeowner might be spending, but the investor also has a property that's in that pool of rental housing that's used for visitors, so that visitor is spending quite a bit of money as well. It's hard to say which one is adding more or how much they're adding beyond property taxes to the community.

The EPI report, which was made public last month, underlined the importance of the destination visitor on driving the resort's economy. Destination visitors represent approximately 68 per cent of Whistler's $1.3-billion total annual spend, and make up 43 per cent of Whistler's annual GDP impact of $572 million.

Mary Forseth, executive director of the AFOW, said second homeowners are happy to make up a significant portion of Whistler's tax base despite not residing in the resort year-round because of their deep appreciation for the community.

"Like many of us, (AFOW members) have fallen in love with Whistler and recognized it's a little paradise and a beautiful place to live, and they want to give back," she said. "It's not just a place they drop into occasionally, it's a place they care about, and that's why AFOW was developed; because of this group of people who were coming here on a regular basis, established a second home and thought 'You know what? This is a home, it may be a second home, but it is a home.'"

Since its founding in 2002, the AFOW has donated $1.1 million to established Whistler charities, including $115,000 for the creation of the Whistler Adaptive Sports Centre.

Beyond their obvious impact on the local economy and non-profit organizations, Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said second homeowners play an essential role in the resort's political realm.

"Even though they're second homeowners, they're longstanding community members and from my experience in politics, some of our most informed citizens, so they're a vital segment of our residential population," she said.

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