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Building on a Shoestring

Community leaders connect to ease short-term housing crisis



By Vivian Moreau

Concerned Whistler business and community leaders are banding together to find solutions for local affordable short-term housing. A spin off from the Shoestring Project that organized immediate housing for prospective seasonal employees while job searching this fall, the HOME project (Housing Our Many Employees) will “stare a huge problem in the face,” says co-chair Tom Horler.

The driving force behind the Shoestring Project that brought a dozen Whistler accommodations together to provide immediate beds for 420 job-seeking seasonal workers, Horler has marshaled a dozen local leaders to brainstorm ideas to Whistler’s perennial problem of providing affordable short-term housing for the area’s seasonal staff.

“We’re just a committee of very concerned citizens that want to see something move ahead,” Horler said. “We’re starting from a blank page. We know what the problem is and we want to articulate that problem clearly and look for solutions.”

The committee, which will meet in January, includes school trustee Andree Janyk, Whistler Housing Authority’s co-chairs Gord McKeever and Marla Zucht, as well as youth worker Greg McDonnell, bed and breakfast owner James McCann, Chamber of Commerce president Louise Lundy, former chamber chair Mike Wintemute, local minister William Roberts, businesswoman Fiona Famulak, councillor and co-chair Ralph Forsythe, and hotelier Dave Demers.

The owner of Sundial, a village boutique hotel, Demers says hearing stories from his own staff about difficulty finding accommodation this season prompted him to join the HOME project.

“I feel it’s just important that we look at alternative accommodation and see how it can all work for our community,” Demers said.

Horler says although the committee does not have any preconceived ideas for solutions it will consider options such as whether Whistler Housing Authority should rent houses so that rooms could then be rented to small businesses for their staff. Another option would be to consider building apartment-style residences similar to what Whistler-Blackcomb has in place.

“This problem has existed for years,” said Horler, who is past president of the Whistler Valley Housing Society, a precursor to the Whistler Housing Authority. He says having happily housed seasonal staff will have a direct impact on visitor experiences to Whistler.

“In my mind the mandate for the HOME project is to make sure our frontline workers have a comfortable and affordable stay all season,” Horler said.

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