Residential Accommodation

Chapter 5

What it’s about

Residential accomodation and policies for employee housing to achieve goal of housing at least 75 per cent of local workforce within Whistler.

Whistler is a community of distinct neighbourhoods, each with a unique character supporting diversity, variety and choice in housing. Whistler residents have access to a continuum of affordable housing types, including market housing, which enables people to live and work in the community through a progression of life stages. Neighbourhoods have a harmonious relationship with the natural landscape, which remains predominant.

Green buffers between neighbourhoods contribute to neighbourhood identity and livability. Trail networks provide connections to key destinations and promote walkability. They also extend access into natural areas for peace and tranquility, recreation, leisure and healthy living. Easy access to nature is fundamental to Whistler’s quality of life and has been a primary consideration in the development and protection of Whistler’s residential neighbourhoods.

Housing has been developed close to transit, pedestrian and bicycle routes, amenities, and services to reduce automobile dependency. Densities have increased in selected areas, supporting the housing needs of the resort community and adding further variety in housing choice.

Whistler’s employees enjoy a secure supply of affordable and livable employee housing that includes a range of housing types, prices and tenures. More than 75 per cent of Whistler’s employees live in Whistler, contributing to the resort community’s vibrancy and success. New employee housing has been developed to respond to demonstrated community need and consistent with Whistler’s growth management policies.

New housing and renovations are designed and built to meet targets for green building standards, providing sustainable, affordable, healthy homes and reducing energy demand and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Owing in part to its evolution from a rustic wilderness getaway to an internationally renowned four-season resort, Whistler is characterized by an eclectic mix of residential developments. In many neighbourhoods, small chalets, cabins and condominiums built in the 1970s and 1980s remain alongside newer, larger and more modern dwellings.

As Whistler approaches its approved residential accommodation capacity and growth boundaries, market demand and construction activity remain strong, as greenfield residential development becomes more limited. Subsequently, Whistler’s original housing stock is undergoing significant renovation and redevelopment; newer, often larger, homes are now appearing in existing neighbourhoods. While redeveloping existing neighbourhoods is considered preferable to expanding growth boundaries, there are opportunities to encourage utilization of housing in existing neighbourhoods for Whistler residents and employees.

Whistler’s resort community context and housing affordability policies have shaped residential land use and responded to four distinct markets: resident, employee, recreation and investment. Historically, housing affordability, home ownership and quality rental accommodations have been the greatest housing challenges in Whistler, challenges that persist today. More recently, these challenges have intensified as Whistler has experienced record visitation, peak workforce numbers, growth in resident population, and strong demand from second homeowners for recreation and investment properties. These factors have driven up the price of market homes to new levels and contributed to a severe housing shortage for employees.

The Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), formed in 1997, was created by the municipality to oversee the development of employee housing in Whistler for Whistler employees (and by definition, retirees who were Whistler employees for defined durations). Through a steadfast commitment, the resort community now has over 2,100 units of employee housing (both rental and owner-occupied units) reserved for employees, with price, eligibility and occupancy restrictions. The municipality’s substantial land bank is available to be developed on an as-needed and as-appropriate basis to continue to support the objective of housing at least 75 per cent of Whistler’s employees in affordable and livable housing within the resort community.

In 2018, the Mayor’s Task Force on Resident Housing completed a comprehensive review of Whistler’s employee housing needs. The task force found that a significant number of Whistler’s employees were in need of more affordable or more suitable housing. For example, Statistics Canada data cited by the task force indicates that nearly 20 per cent of all rental households (or 380 households) in Whistler are spending over 50 per cent of their income on shelter costs, an income to rent ratio considered to be extremely challenging. The task force also found that employee housing needs span the full spectrum of type, tenure, household composition and incomes, with residents facing affordability barriers when seeking stable long-term rental options, affordable ownership, aging in place opportunities and homes to accommodate new or growing families. The task force’s final report made seven key recommendations which have informed the residential accommodation policies in this OCP.

With economic factors (such as exchange rates and current property values) favouring investment, resident and recreational markets, Whistler’s policies to meet housing needs for at least the next five years must focus primarily on employee housing.

Click the ‘Objectives & Policies’ to display additional content.

5.1. Goal Meet Whistler’s long-term housing needs consistent with the growth management policies and land use designations in this OCP.

5.1.1. Objective

Designate lands for various forms of residential accommodation to meet Whistler’s diverse housing needs. Policy

Apply and maintain the land use designations shown in Schedule A for residential accommodation development to meet the location, amount, type and density of residential development required to meet anticipated housing needs over a period of at least five years. Policy

Maximize utilization of Residential Reserve lands for employee housing and phase development as required to support Whistler’s employee housing needs.

5.1.2. Objective

House at least 75 per cent of Whistler’s workforce within the resort community in livable, appropriate and affordable housing. Policy

Project and plan for current and future employee housing needs by undertaking ongoing monitoring of key housing need indicators, and adapting supply-related policies and actions accordingly. Policy

Strive to add 1,000 new employee beds within the next five years. Policy

Pursue development of Residential Reserve lands as needed and as appropriate to help address the municipality’s employee housing needs. Policy

Pursue development of Residential Reserve lands in Cheakamus Crossing within the next five years, as one of the primary opportunities for new employee housing. Policy

Consider allowing development of employee housing on underdeveloped private lands in residential neighbourhoods with close proximity to jobs, sustainable transportation, amenities and services and consistent with policies and criteria established for evaluation. Policy

Explore a variety of infill housing types and tenure models as a means to secure employee housing, building upon existing opportunities. Policy

Where new developments are expected to create new jobs, consider requiring employee housing contributions in the following preferred order:

  • (a) units on site, where compatible with adjacent land uses;
  • (b) units off site and within Whistler; and
  • (c) cash in lieu contributions consistent with municipal policies. Policy

Ensure employee housing is occupied consistent with restrictions related to price, use, resale, eligibility and other conditions. Policy

Continually monitor the size of Whistler’s workforce, and the portion of Whistler’s workforce living in Whistler. Seek to ensure the balance between the economy and available supply of employee housing is met. Policy

When determining if the objective of housing 75 per cent of Whistler’s workforce is being met, factor in quality, livability, appropriateness and affordability indicators such as number of people per room or dwelling, percentage of income spent on housing, life stage and family size.

5.1.3. Objective

Protect Whistler’s existing housing and employee housing supply. Policy

Maintain an inventory of employee housing in perpetuity, for rental and ownership tenures, to be available for employees. Policy

Use housing agreements, covenants and bylaws to ensure housing is occupied as intended for employee housing. Policy

Consider creative approaches to encourage homeowners to make their underutilized dwellings and auxiliary residential suites available for employee housing. Policy

Recover housing inventory by actively enforcing against illegal nightly rentals of residentially zoned properties. Policy

Explore infill as a tool to support both aging in place and employee housing.

5.2. Goal Promote diversity in housing price ranges to maintain affordability for the varied needs of different workforce groups and retirees within the community.

5.2.1. Objective

Encourage a range of price points within employee housing to meet the needs of the diverse workforce and retiree groups. Policy

Acknowledge there are broad differences in the community’s workforce demographics (e.g., family structure, age, income levels) and as such there are different housing needs, which will evolve over time. Policy

Identify, implement and update financial and regulatory tools as required to ensure employee housing remains affordable as community needs evolve. Policy

Collaborate with appropriate agencies and organizations, and where applicable the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation, to source funding for employee housing projects.

5.3. Goal Promote a diversity of housing forms, tenures, residential uses and densities to support the resort community’s needs.

5.3.1. Objective

Encourage flexibility and adaptability in residential land uses. Policy

Encourage residential neighbourhood and building design to meet Universal Design standards and best practices. Policy

Support flexibility in neighbourhood design and development to adapt to changing housing needs and affordability considerations, such as supporting live-work and infill zoning in appropriate locations. Policy

Encourage a diversity of housing types and tenures (rental and ownership) responsive to the needs of all age groups and family types, including singles, couples, young adults and families, seasonal residents, people with disabilities and seniors, and to support their transition through different housing types as their needs change. Policy

Collaborate with appropriate agencies and organizations to investigate requirements and provide, on an as-needed basis, affordable housing and special needs housing including emergency shelter, transitional housing or special care facilities. Policy

Recognize market housing, including second homeownership, as a significant influence on Whistler’s housing mix and local economy.

5.4. Goal Reduce the environmental and energy impacts of residential neighbourhoods to improve the quality of life and sustainability of the resort community.

5.4.1. Objective

Encourage environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient design, construction and renovation standards for both new development and redevelopment of residential areas. Policy

Encourage all new buildings and renovations to be built with environmentally sustainable methods, standards and technologies including by implementing the BC Energy Step Code. Policy

Encourage flexibility in zoning and consider infill developments that take advantage of existing infrastructure, have close proximity to transit, commercial centres, amenities and services, and are compatible with the adjacent neighbourhood character. Policy

Ensure all neighbourhoods are well-connected to local transit, trails, green space, amenities and services.

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