Letters to the editor 

Empty houses or resident housing?

If you are a financial manager or investor I need your help. I have a question. And if you are not a financial guru then please ask one of your friends who is.

There is an underlying assumption with some in Whistler that empty houses owned by second homeowners contribute to the entire community. Owners pay taxes and rarely use services is quite often the argument for the assumption. However what are the big empty houses in Whistler really worth to the community? What are the costs, including opportunity costs, vs. the benefits? Is it possible that using the same land for four townhouses housing 8-12 employee residents is more beneficial to Whistler from strictly an economic perspective? I really don’t know, but I would just like to offer up these thoughts to try and get an answer.

From the outset it is easy to think of a large house in Whistler being beneficial to the economy. During the building phase tremendous amounts of money flow into the community, and a tremendous amount of money gets spent in the community. It’s also crucial not to forget about the yearly taxes the community gets from the property as well as the spending during the limited weekends or weeks that it is inhabited.

On the other hand, consider the tremendous amount of money coming into the community to build four townhouses. Include the yearly taxes and the wages spent in Whistler by the 8-12 resident employees. Without the resident housing, these wages would otherwise be spent outside of Whistler. With 12 people working in Whistler at the average wage of let’s say $35,000/year that amounts to $420,000. We know that nobody saves money or leaves Whistler with any money so perhaps most of that gets spent here.

Now what is the difference between the cash flow for the big empty house vs. the four-plex resident house? Or perhaps put another way, how many days does an empty house have to be occupied (or money spent) to match the cash flowing in to the community by the 12 living in four resident employee townhouses?

I know that it is much more complicated than the scenario I’ve painted, yet I hope it is worth exploring. If there are any financial managers or hard core economists out there who are intrigued by this idea please take a moment and work it out. Don't forget the multiplier effect. You can get all the rough figures from the RMOW Planning Dept. I’d love to know if the assumption of greater economic benefits to the entire community from empty houses is fact or fiction when compared to the alternatives.

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