Employee housing windfall sparks donation 

$500 boost for Whistler Community Services Society

By Alison Taylor

Unbeknownst to him, Ben Thomas made a wise investment two years ago when he bought an employee housing unit in Whistler.

Though his Bear Ridge townhouse was tied to a price appreciation formula, which regulated how much his home could increase in value, Thomas made 25 per cent on his original investment when he sold it this summer.

“There’s no doubt that the return that I received was a lot more than I should have deserved given the fact that I bought it at a discounted price,” said Thomas, who bought the three bedroom plus den townhouse in 2004.

That’s why, upon the sale of his unit this summer he decided to donate $500 to the Whistler Community Services Society, to be put towards the interim housing program for new workers.

“I had made some money off an asset that I wasn’t originally intending to because of the Vancouver market so I thought that I would give something back to the community,” he added.

Like two other employee housing projects in Whistler, the appreciation rate on the Bear Ridge townhouse complex was tied to the Vancouver market. Owners who have sold in recent months have experienced a windfall in their real estate because the Vancouver market has skyrocketed.

Thomas said he never imagined the return he would see on his real estate. When he bought the place he was just excited to have an opportunity to own in Whistler.

The rapidly escalating appreciation formula for employee housing has been at the centre of a housing debate this summer after council and the Whistler Housing Authority approved a new formula for the homes upon resale.

The new owners of Thomas’s unit will be tied to the Core Consumer Price Index formula, which is expected to see a modest two per cent increase annually.

The emotional debate in the community that followed the decision to change the appreciation formula prompted the WHA to hold a series of roundtable discussions with the public. Two meetings have taken place with two more to go in the coming days.

WHA General Manager Marla Zucht said the formula change is one of the hot topics of the discussions. And though several owners believe the formula change will negatively affect the values of their homes when they resell, Zucht said that’s not happening on the ground.

Most units have sold for their maximum resale price this summer.

“What we’re seeing when we’re selling the units is the new formula isn’t an issue for new buyers,” said Zucht.

The larger, more expensive units, however, are not getting the maximum price. Zucht attributes that more to the price-point and not the formula change.

Fifteen employee housing units have sold since June. During that same time last year five units had sold.

Zucht admits the formula change could have sparked a selling boom as owners try to get the maximum value from their home before other units in the same project are tied to a more conservative appreciation formula.

Thomas said it played a role in his decision to move from employee housing to a smaller market unit closer to the village.

“I had been thinking of selling,” he said. “It did make my decision to sell more quickly.”

And the large and unexpected return on his investment also prompted him to give back to the community.

“I thought I would count my blessings and give some money back here because I realized that I was very lucky,” said Thomas.

His $500 will go towards food for the seven-week interim housing program put on by Whistler Community Services Society.

Executive Director Janet McDonald said they are short of funding for the program this year with just $11,500 for a program that cost $21,000 last year.

The program gives new seasonal workers who are struggling a leg up and a place to stay as they get on their feet in Whistler. It operates out of a local bed and breakfast, beginning Oct. 7 until the end of November.

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