Maxed out 

Who makes Whistler’s housing policy?

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Love ’em or hate ’em, there is one redeeming quality about politicians: Every so often, you have a chance to vote the scoundrels out of office the same way you voted them into office back when that seemed like a good idea.

Lest you think I’m about to launch into an attack on politicians, guess again. Having turned over a new rock, I’ve decided to rant against a new target: Lawyers.

Don’t get me wrong. I like lawyers. Some of my best friends are/were lawyers. I myself am a recovering lawyer. There’s one thing you have to understand about lawyers though. Regardless of what great/terrible human beings they might be, when a lawyer is working for a client, all bets are off. The very handsome fees lawyers charge not only compensate them for their time, they buy their best efforts to make things work out in their client’s best interests.

Which might not be your best interests. Or mine. Or the town’s. Or the planet’s. Or, for that matter, the cause of truth, justice, and the Canadian way.

Lawyers are a bit like hookers that way. Except there are things hookers won’t do no matter how much you pay them.

Hard as it might be to believe, this isn’t a knock against lawyers. Lawyers are agents of civilization. Without lawyers to fight our battles — generally within the confines of intricately defined rules of procedure — we’d pretty much be left to beat the snot out of each other whenever we reached an impasse over something. Might would make right.

Interestingly enough, back in the pre-lawyer days, that’s exactly what happened. And when enough rich guys got the snot beat out of them, they started to hire ringers to fight their battles for them. The game then changed from might makes right to money changes everything, which is pretty much still how things are. Lawyers — in an evolutionary sense — grew out of those hired fighters and it wasn’t long before they realized that fighting with words was more conducive to long, lucrative careers than fighting with fists. The rest is history.

If you want someone to fight your battles for you, hire a lawyer. If you want to make public policy, leave it to your politicians; they’ve been elected to represent you and if they screw things up too many times, you can throw ’em out of office.

The one thing you should never, ever tolerate though is letting someone’s lawyer make public policy.

And that, boys and girls, is the sad state of affairs somewhere over the Rainbow housing development.

There was little joy in Waitlist-ville a week ago Tuesday at the Rainbow information meeting. That’s because the information crushed a lot of dreams. People on the ever-growing waitlist for Whistler Housing Authority housing, people who’d waited an eternity for the partners at Rainbow to iron out their petty differences and get on with the long-promised project, left the meeting in shock. Shock and tears. That’s partly because Rainbow has morphed into an upscale, unaffordable affordable housing project with the cheapest duplex — sorry kids, no townhomes, no multi-family; just duplexes and single-family houses — logging in at around $380,000.

It’s also because the developers — themselves a necessary evil, not unlike lawyers — and the developer’s lawyers have floated an alternative qualification criteria for people to be able to buy the WHA units.

Currently, if you want to buy WHA housing you have to get on the WHA waitlist. To do that, you have to meet the waitlist criteria. Among other qualifications is this one: “ Applicants or their spouse must not own, either personally, jointly or indirectly through a trust or business assets, any non-restricted real estate in Whistler at the time of the application .”

Well, that makes sense, I hear you say. After all, WHA’s mandate is to facilitate the development of housing so Whistler can meet its goal of enabling 70 per cent of the town’s workerbees actually living in town. If people already own a home in Whistler, WHA doesn’t need to be building housing for them.

Funny thing though. Most of the people on the 700ish long waitlist aren’t what you would call really well off. They can’t afford really expensive homes. If they could, the words “affordable housing” wouldn’t have any more meaning than the word “sustainable.”

Developers, on the other hand, would prefer to build really expensive homes. Expensive Homes = More Profit.

But if you build expensive “affordable housing” how do you get around the immutable fact that very few people on the waitlist can afford it? You do an end-run and change the criteria. Which is what, according to several members of Whistler council, the Rainbow developers and their lawyers did. They developed an alternate qualification criteria. It says anyone who would otherwise qualify to be on the WHA waitlist, but who already own market housing in Whistler , can buy homes in Rainbow if there aren’t enough people on the waitlist who step up to the plate and buy a home they can’t afford. The higher the price, the fewer the waitlist kids who can afford to buy. QED.

Under that criteria, the WHA’s mandate magically changes into providing retirement opportunities for anyone who owns a home in Whistler, can sell it for a jillion dollars, buy a much less expensive home, pocket the difference, and live happily ever after.

That would be a noble social undertaking. Someday in the future. Like when the waitlist has been whittled down to, oh, say 200 names.

So how did this alternate criteria sneak into Rainbow. The developers and their lawyers presented it to the Planning Department. Eleven months ago. No one in Planning thought to tell council about it. Didn’t tell the WHA board either.

So what we currently have before us is a Whistler Pioneer Retirement Plan housing proposal. It should be killed before it goes any farther. Council — our elected representatives — and the WHA board make housing policy. Not developers, not their lawyers and most definitely not the Planning Department.

This is not the time, as Councillor McKeever suggested, to “Hold our nose and move forward.” This is the time to kill this nonsense before it goes any further and respect the mandate of the WHA. We’ve fought too long and hard to be leaders in affordable housing to piss it away on a scurrilous proposal like this. Yes, we need an affordable housing project at Rainbow. No, we don’t need this one.

Just to be clear, council’s trying to do the right thing with this proposal. But they need your support. It isn’t easy to see a long-awaited dream go “poof” and disappear. E-mail them, call them — they’re contact info is at — and let them know you support an affordable housing project at Rainbow, not this unconscionable scam.

And you — the ones responsible for this fiasco — should all be ashamed of yourselves.

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