At the October 4 Council meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey presented an update on Whistler’s current environment regarding housing including various related impacts and initiatives. He also proposed forming a Mayor’s Task Force on Resident Housing.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said, “The municipality has always recognized the importance of housing our local workforce and has been successful in exceeding our target of housing over 75 per cent of our workforce in Whistler for the last 13 years.”
She added, “We are aware that housing is one of our community’s biggest current concerns. There are several initiatives underway by the municipality, the Whistler Housing Authority and other community organizations. Forming a task force will help to better understand and bring together resort partners to help address this complex community issue.”
Whistler’s economy has experienced recent growth supported by beneficial macro-economic factors. Summer visitation has grown significantly and summer occupancy is approaching winter occupancy rates. Winter visitation also continues to increase. Economic growth has created additional jobs, and Whistler now has returned to approximately the same number of full-time equivalent employees as in the mid-2000s.
Whistler has been focussed on providing resident restricted housing since the establishment of the Whistler Housing Authority in 1997 and now has 6,200 resident restricted beds in rental and ownership units. Whistler is vulnerable to economic cycles and must plan diligently to meet anticipated employee and housing supply needs.
Several initiatives are currently underway to address resident housing needs in Whistler:
- The Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) is currently building a new three-storey resident restricted rental housing development at Cheakamus Crossing, which will include 100 new employee beds. It is anticipated to be ready for occupancy in mid-2017.
- New resident restricted units above the Rainbow Commercial Plaza are now being rented.
- The Whistler Housing Authority has applied for $2 million in funding through the Province of British Columbia’s new Investment in Affordable Housing Program to assist with the construction of new affordable rental housing in Whistler.
- Free landlord and tenant education workshops have been scheduled this fall in collaboration with the WHA and RMOW. A landlord information session takes places at the library on October 13 from 2 to 4 p.m.
- The RMOW is increasing enforcement of illegal nightly rentals.
- Several projects are underway in Squamish and Pemberton to provide rental and market housing.
In addition, several studies related to housing have been completed or are underway:
- The Resort Municipality of Whistler is currently conducting a review of Whistler’s tourist accommodation properties, policies and regulations, and trends in online booking and customer expectations. This project may result in recommendations for policy or regulation changes.
- The Resort Municipality is also analyzing current neighbourhood character and development trends to better understand the effects of current construction, redevelopment, home sales and migration, supply of developable lots and zoning regulations.
- The Whistler Housing Authority recently released the results of its 2016 Employer Housing Needs Assessment (its 19th annual survey).
- The Whistler Chamber of Commerce released results of their Working in Whistler Survey, which looked at employee attraction and retention, as well as community issues like housing.
- The Communities that Care Young Adult Report identified housing as a concern of young adults in Whistler.
Proposed Mayor’s Task Force on Resident Housing
A Mayor’s Task Force on Resident Housing has been proposed to leverage the collaborative interest and involvement of all community stakeholders and prioritize housing initiatives.
Proposed membership will include representatives from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Tourism Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, Whistler Housing Authority, Hotel Association of Whistler, Restaurant Association of Whistler and community.
Potential short-term priorities for consideration by the task force include:
- Transferring a second building site to the Whistler Housing Authority
- Engaging the business community to grow employer-secured housing inventory
- Engaging the private sector to create new resident-restricted rental developments
- Pursuing innovative mechanisms to curb illegal nightly rentals such as court proceedings and business regulation bylaw amendments to enable more effective enforcement
- Seeking funding support from other levels of government for housing initiatives
Staff will present the terms of reference for the Mayor’s Task Force at the October 18 Council meeting.
“Despite our provision of 6,200 resident restricted beds, changes in the housing and accommodation environment and fluctuations in staffing levels mean the community needs to continue to look at new ways to plan for workforce housing. This includes resident restricted housing as well as many other areas such as how the business community is securing housing and how to ensure illegal nightly rentals are being addressed. We need to make thoughtful, smart and evidence-based decisions that work for the community both today and in the coming years,” added the Mayor.