Glut of employee housing by 2010 raises concerns 

500 new units on the books for next five years, but costs continue to increase

Whistler’s for-purchase employee housing inventory will almost double in the next five years, signaling a new chapter in the community’s growth.

More than 500 new units could be built and sold to Whistler employees by the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, adding to the 588 existing units already owned by employees, built over the past 20 years.

"We’re in a really dynamic period here where there could be an enormous change in the demographic and the number of residents that are in or out of affordable housing," said Mayor Ken Melamed, after the public hearing for one of the municipality’s major housing projects, the 2010 Olympic athletes’ village.

According to the business plan, the athletes’ village will deliver 250 housing units. At the other end of town, the Rainbow development will deliver at least 235 units of employee housing. In between there are smaller developments on the horizon: 34 units at the Shoestring Lodge, 30 units in Function Junction, and Intrawest is still planning to build up to 30 units at Cedar Glen in Spring Creek.

Only last year the community was clamouring for housing as the Whistler Housing Authority waitlist ballooned to 500 separate applications. Now community members are wondering: will there be enough uptake to fill all the housing on the books and will Whistler’s workers be able to afford it given the rapidly rising cost of construction?

"Everybody who follows affordable housing has to be concerned about this next period of time," said the mayor. "We’ve got a big waitlist, we know we have big demand. And we’ve got two projects supplying a whole lot of (housing). There are going to be some dramatic changes and it’s hard really to predict what the outcomes will be.

"We don’t want to end up at the end of the day with oversupply and property sitting empty in the athletes’ village. We’ve got to be sure that there’s uptake to manage our risk."

One suggestion to manage that risk was broached by community member Stuart Munro at the athletes’ village public hearing on Thursday, June 22. He believes an independent assessor should canvass the waitlist to determine how much uptake is there and how much workers can really afford. The same exercise, he said, needs to be done with all major employers in Whistler at least at the mid-management level.

"The first step… is to tap down on the waitlist, drill down to get some real honest answers from people," he said.

Answers to questions such as: how much money do you make, how much money do you have to put down on a house, and can you afford half a million dollars for a price-restricted duplex unit?

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