Resident housing task force created 

Homeowners encouraged to create or retain employee housing

Councillor Kristi Wells wants public input on the municipality’s new directions for resident housing.

She asked council to create a task force of six to eight people, including councillors, municipal staff and the public, to bounce off the new non-cost housing initiatives presented to council on Monday night.

She said she wants to "flush some of the initiatives through the public."

The task force could give feedback to council, and while she admits that no solution is perfect, this may be a way of "looking at doing things perhaps a little differently."

The task force will tackle new non-cost resident housing initiatives that have been designed to encourage the creation of resident housing by Whistler property owners. More resident housing can either come from new developments or from within existing neighbourhoods.

But infill, which is the creation of resident housing within Whistler, is recognized as the preferred method of finding resident housing.

Among the suggestions presented to council on Monday night was a proposal for establishing tax incentives for properties that have secondary suites. In other words, people who provide employee housing would get a financial benefit.

Another new idea is to allow employee suites in detached garages. Currently suites must be part of the main house and cannot be above a detached garage.

There was also the suggested requirement that in new single-family developments there must be a 20 per cent quota of resident restricted duplex or triplex use.

Another initiative that falls under new developments would be to require all new industrial and commercial developments to provide 10 per cent of employee housing on site or convert existing market units.

These were just a few of the non-cost incentives that municipal staff and the Whistler Housing Authority board members and staff have been working on over the last several months.

Ken Melamed called the initiatives both exciting and encouraging but he recognized that they are not a catchall solution.

"We can require all the suites we want but we can’t force people to rent them," he said.

Still it is hoped these incentives may lessen the ever-quickening pace of employee suite losses.

Ten years ago roughly 75 secondary suites were built in Whistler homes each year. In the last three years that number has shrunk to about 20 per year.

Many suites are left vacant or are taken over by families expanding their living space.

At the same time there has been an increase in "tear down" activity where old Whistler ski cabins are being replaced by large homes, which in turn displaces local residents.

And other locals are cashing out and moving to more affordable neighbouring communities.

"There’s still a lot more that we need to do and as I understand it this is just the first step," said Councillor Caroline Lamont.

Whistler has been trying to increase the resident housing stock by creating an employee housing reserve fund, forming the Whistler Housing Authority and directing funds to the construction of resident housing.

The demand for resident housing remains strong and the employee housing reserve is almost depleted.

In the council report summary it states:

"The implementation of non-cost initiatives will be important in alleviating the loss in employee housing units created by various forms of ‘leakage’ in existing developments.

"While not a panacea to the impacts of leakage, when combined with other initiatives, non-cost initiatives curtail some effects of employee suite losses."

The task force will have a tight timeframe of about a month before they have to report back to council at the Feb. 17 meeting.

If the task force can report back in time Wells said some of the initiatives might be in place before next year’s construction season begins.

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