Based on extensive community feedback over the past two and a half years, the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) has made major changes to how it structures rental rates as well as eligibility criteria for applicants. affordable rental housing.
At the regular council meeting on Tuesday, April 5, elected officials passed changes to the council’s existing employee housing policy after the WHA heard from more than 800 program participants and applicants since the municipal branch announced last changed rental eligibility and rates in 2019. Prior to the changes, income and asset maximums were used to determine rental rates through the rental categories framework, which included six levels of income and assets for each category of rooms.
Although the framework was designed to approximate a household’s income threshold of 30% – the maximum limit that most experts recommend a household spend on rent to be considered affordable – “this intention has had mixed results,” noted Marla Zucht, chief executive. of the AMH.
“Depending on the tenant’s current income and asset levels, they may end up bouncing between the six different rent categories, creating instability and insecurity in their housing situation.”
It was a common refrain heard by local Alicia Lafon after she posted to the popular Whistler Winter Facebook group last month asking for people’s feedback on how changes to WHA eligibility and rental rates in 2019 created unforeseen challenges.
“The income brackets of these categories [can] change from year to year, without notice to tenants,” Lafon relayed in an email.
Some tenants told Lafon, while others reported directly to the WHA, that they chose to refuse additional work or reduce their hours to avoid being relegated to a higher rental category.
“My dilemma is that I would like to increase my income to save or be approved to buy a WHA house, but increasing my income leads to a rent increase,” a single mother explained to Lafon in a private message which was shared with Pique, courtesy of tenant.
The extensive community feedback the WHA heard helped inform its decision to move to a simplified structure that sets a tenant’s rent at 30% of a household’s gross income, subject to minimum rental rates and maximum which depend on the type of unit. For reference, the minimum rental rate for a studio in the Chiyakmesh building at 1060 Legacy Way is $868 per month, while the maximum rate is set at $1,639.
“Something we often throw away is the [term] “affordable housing” and what does it mean? Something’s affordable for someone,” Whistler Councilor and WHA Board Chair Jen Ford said at the April 5 meeting. “But what it is is accessible housing. This is guaranteed safe accommodation and [offers] long-term rental agreements that give you the clarity and consistency you can [use to] put down roots and stay in the community.
The other substantive change passed at the April 5 council meeting effectively replaces a net worth test for WHA tenant applicants, a process that has proven too cumbersome for potential tenants and cumbersome to administer for WHA staff. Prior to the change, applicants were required to disclose all of their savings, bonds, stocks, mutual funds, term deposits, and any personal or business real estate.
“It’s a lot,” Zucht conceded. “Very often this information is incomplete because it is not well understood on what exactly needs to be disclosed. This is often time consuming to administer and in reality it is next to impossible to comprehensively check all the documentation.
Comments from the WHA indicated that asset limits had a negative impact on the “ability of program participants to save for the future, as more savings will mean paying higher rent, which then affects the affordability of their housing,” Zucht said. “It also negatively affects the self-employed, local business owners and seniors, who may have higher asset levels associated with their businesses and their retirements.”
Instead, the WHA will move to a simplified, easier-to-verify restriction on market housing ownership, meaning anyone who already owns market housing in BC is not eligible.
“It maintains an asset test for the rental program, but it’s much simpler for program participants to understand and easy to verify, so it’s less vulnerable to abuse,” Zucht said.
On that note, the WHA and city staff are working on a future report to council that will include recommendations on improving the application of WHA eligibility criteria and rules.
“I like tonight’s conversation on compliance and enforcement,” the adviser said. John Grills. “It’s so expensive and so much work to build these homes, [we have] to ensure that it is used as it was intended.
Existing WHA tenancy agreements will remain in place, unless a tenant volunteers to move to the new rent-geared-to-income framework, which will require writing a new tenancy agreement. The WHA will prioritize tenants who will see their rents drop under the new rate structure.
Always intended to be an evolving framework, Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said WHA’s rental policy will continue to be changed, as necessary, based on public feedback.
“We promised to improve this policy over time based on community feedback. These changes do that,” he said. allows us to learn what works, what doesn’t and to adapt accordingly.
For more information, visit Whistler.ca/services/housing/about-whistler-housing-authority.