Part of the North American mythology has always been that everyone should, at some point, be able to own their own home. For generations of North Americans it has been a dream that usually came true. In recent years, however, home ownership has become only a dream for more and more people. For many, housing prices have simply outpaced income. Whistler is not at all unique in that respect. The lack of affordable housing can have an impact on rents, as well. But making housing available for sale to people with incomes well below six-figures is the key. Just how difficult that can be was demonstrated at a workshop on the Millar’s Pond affordable housing project two weeks ago. The most efficient legal means to ensure housing stays in the hands of locals has been used for years and seems to work well. That is, a covenant on title that states the primary tenants must be full-time residents of Whistler. The covenant — to date — has kept such units below market value, although how it works with the single family houses built at Lorimer Ridge remains to be seen. At Millar’s Pond, the next affordable housing project in Whistler, the land for the project is being provided at no charge, a condition of approval of zoning for Intrawest’s other projects in Millar’s Pond. Prospective developers are being provided with a basic plan for the townhouses and a project co-ordinator. They will then be asked to bid on the project with the aim of bringing the units on to the market at no more than $100 a buildable square foot. Most developers at the initial workshop expressed doubts that it could be done. Part of the difficulty, according to the developers, was they were being given too many options and not enough details, which made it difficult to put together a precise bid. A second workshop, with a more detailed set of plans, was held Wednesday. Assuming a detailed design was presented, if the best and most experienced developers in the valley — with free land — still can't bring housing on the market at a price deemed affordable by the Whistler Valley Housing Society, what does that say about prospects for Whistler's future? The consequence of not creating affordable housing is that those people who can't afford to buy will ultimately leave the community, give up the dream. The Millar's Pond affordable housing project is still on schedule, and the housing society hopes to have a few units available by next winter. But the cost of building in Whistler is now apparently so high that a) it may not be brought on market at the desired $100 per square foot or b) it may require some sort of subsidy to reach that mark — such as building some units without the covenant. Just how important that housing is to Whistler's future and how difficult it is to achieve should not be forgotten.


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