Bylaw update aims to grow housing reserves 

Employee Housing Service Charge bylaw was last updated in 2000

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - building up An update to a municipal bylaw aims to build up reserve funds for employee housing projects like the one underway in Cheakamus Crossing.
  • file photo by braden dupuis
  • building up An update to a municipal bylaw aims to build up reserve funds for employee housing projects like the one underway in Cheakamus Crossing.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler is hoping to bolster its funding for employee housing initiatives through updates to its Employee Housing Service Charge (EHSC) bylaw.

At its Feb. 7 meeting, council directed staff to bring forward an amendment to the EHSC bylaw that would raise the charge from $5,908 per employee to $10,177.

The increase reflects rising construction costs (based on the Statistics Canada Construction Price Index for Vancouver).

The EHSC bylaw was first adopted in 1990, and requires new residential developments (that are subject to a rental pool covenant) as well as commercial and industrial developments to contribute to employee housing.

The charge is based on the number of employees expected to be generated by these developments, and was last updated in 2000.

Some developments, like detached and duplex residential, indoor recreation facilities and public institutions, are exempt from the bylaw.

In 2016, the total amount of charges collected through building permits was $111,070. If the same amount of development were subject to the new charge, the RMOW would have collected $191,327 (a 72-per-cent increase).

The money goes into a reserve account used to finance employee housing projects developed by the RMOW or Whistler Housing Authority — five such projects have been built to this point, with more currently underway in Cheakamus Crossing.

The update has been a long time coming, said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"It's been on the workplan of people over the years and it just kind of gets shoved to the corner of the desk, and because we haven't had a lot of development recently, it hasn't really been front of mind," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"But now that we're looking at all things resident housing, it was more than overdue that we look at the employee housing service charge bylaw as well."

The EHSC has been hugely beneficial to the RMOW over the years, at one point accounting for $6 million in reserve funds for employee housing.

"It's been huge, especially during that period in the '90s when we were going crazy with development," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"(The increase) is certainly going to grow the reserve, and we've got things like, perhaps, the Renaissance project coming up, and other projects, so we're looking for any way possible for increasing our resident employee housing."

The reserves currently contain about $283,000.

The recommendation passed by council also directs staff to create a policy for rezoning applications that would generate more employees, requiring developers to build or create more employee bed units, and to investigate other amendments to the bylaw to more effectively address housing needs associated with new development.

Developers will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed increase as it makes its way through the municipal bylaw process.

"Nobody likes paying more in the way of cost charges, but I think that there has been acceptance that the provision of housing is a critical piece here in Whistler, so I don't expect significant push back," the mayor said.

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