Proposed Whistler Housing Authority policies: long on ideology, short on real-world details 

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK - Elusive dreams Coming changes may affect how you qualify for WHA housing.
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  • Elusive dreams Coming changes may affect how you qualify for WHA housing.

The sound of one hand clapping is, of course, the virtually inaudible sound of a small volume of air being displaced, which is to say, silence.

Compared to what I've heard from our elected and unelected decision makers at muni hall regarding my outstanding challenge, the sound of one hand clapping is deafening. What I've heard is silence, nada, zilch, zero.

While few of us have much of a memory and even fewer actually pay attention, let me refresh your memory regarding that challenge, since I'm pretty sure a number of you thought to yourself, "What challenge is he talking about?"

Two weeks ago I challenged the mayor, any councillors, and/or our senior staff who believed they had a strong case to make, to publicly debate me regarding the merits, fairness and ethics of allowing rental and/or ownership units in employee housing built by private developers—with employee bed units generously offered up by the RMOW, per the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing recommendations—to be snapped up by businesses in town, or anyone else they prefer to rent or sell to, ahead of people on the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) waitlists. The ones who have been cooling their heels for years, waiting.

Since the mayor and every councillor present at the March 26 council meeting failed to raise any objections to this policy and since it was put forward by senior staff, I was pretty sure they must think it makes sense and is fair and wouldn't have any hesitation to let the public know why they think it makes sense and is fair.

Their silence only strengthens my belief this policy is indefensible.

I also challenged the more than 1,200 people on the rental waitlist and 700 people on the ownership waitlist to email mayor and council telling them they thought it was indefensible. I guess we'll know later this week when the next council package comes out how many were paying attention and actually care enough to have done so.

In the meantime, many of them could be booted off the waitlists if the new WHA policies are put into effect.

"What?" I hear you ask.

That's right. The deadline to return a WHA survey, part of the WHA's annual waitlist confirmation process, is April 29. The WHA has included questions about employment status—current rules require applicants to work a minimum of 20 hours per week in Whistler; the proposed change is to 30 hours—household size and family structure.

I'm not sure how data on those last two might be factored in to eligibility but anyone who doesn't return the questionnaire by Monday will be assumed to be no longer interested in being on the waitlist.

There are some good things being proposed. But even those come with some caveats, discussed below. Where the old guidelines had some wiggle room for people who already owned a limited class of property, the new ones would, if approved, disqualify anyone who has any ownership interest in any property.

That's probably good in the sense it applies to seniors who were eligible to get waitlisted through the Mature Action Community for senior-designated housing on the condition they sell their market house within six months of successfully acquiring WHA seniors' housing. WHA housing was never meant to be a retirement plan for anyone cashing out of a $2-million home and paying a fraction of that for WHA housing.

On the other hand, it would also disqualify anyone who had a fractional interest in the family cottage back in Ontario, courtesy of their parent's estate. I'll defer to anyone who believes that has any bearing on living and working in Whistler.

In establishing the guidelines, the RMOW looked to five models in other communities: BC Housing; Banff Housing Corporation; Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority; Canmore Community Housing Corporation; and the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency.

Ironically, one thing those five have in common, with the possible exception of BC Housing, is this: they've all studied the WHA and how Whistler has accomplished what we've done. We were, in some cases, the model for what they've put in place.

So what's potentially changing? Well, if you're going to rent a WHA apartment, your rent will be pegged to your income. Depending on what you make, you may be asked to pay more than your neighbour... who works fewer hours, plays more and wonders why you're such a workaholic. Don't know how losing your job will factor into your rent.

If you want to buy a WHA unit, your net worth will be taken into account. Have too much savings or financial investments? No home for you. Notwithstanding, your wealth and income may fall far short of qualifying you to purchase anything on the market in this town.

But then, you might enjoy living in Squamish or Pemberton. The old guidelines allowed you to be waitlisted if you worked in Whistler, but having grown tired of the perennial dance of finding a place to rent in Whistler, you bought a tiny condo in either town. No longer. If you own anything in either town, now officially considered satellite communities, you're stuck with your commute and forever resigned to living up or down valley.

If the devil is in the details—and they assure me he/she is—the details are administrative. Currently, and for as long as I can remember, there are only a handful of WHA staff. They can't, or won't, enforce existing WHA rules except on rare occasions. They require people living in WHA housing to sign an annual declaration stating they actually live in their WHA home. Fewer than half actually complete and return the declaration. Enforcement actions? None.

WHA has an anonymous means for people to report WHA homeowners who are breaking the rules—for example, not living in their home, posting it on Airbnb, renting part of it for more than the allowable rent, things like that. It isn't used much but part of the reason might be because there are only exceptional cases where anything is actually done to enforce the rules when someone is reported. There seems to be either no appetite to enforce them or no capacity to do so.

So now imagine a whole new set of guidelines that will require WHA staff to confirm earnings and/or net worth of applicants for the all-in-one waitlist. The mind reels!

Will they need to see pay slips? Banking records? Canada Revenue Agency filings (taxes)? How will they verify any voluntarily reported income or net worth figures?

Apparently there is going to be "community engagement" when staff formalize the new eligibility and enforcement rules. I'm guessing that's going to be one interesting get-together. But like so much of what's come out of the mayor's task force, this too is long on ideology and short on real-world details.

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