Tim Page knew that it was going to be almost impossible to find accommodation in Whistler.
For the past two years, the Australian citizen heard rumours about Whistler’s difficult housing market. People worldwide were talking about it. If you are going to come to Whistler, he was told, you’ve got to be really lucky.
So when he finally arrived in Whistler two weeks ago, he decided to get creative with his housing search. Instead using more traditional venues — local newspapers and Craigslist listings — Page made a “seeking accommodation” ad out of cardboard, taped it to his body, and began walking through Whistler Village.
“I was originally going to use (the cardboard sign) as a last resort, but then I thought ‘Why?’ so I put it on straight away,” said Page, 23.
Even though Page was a bit embarrassed about the sign, his unusual method worked. Within one day, he and his girlfriend had a found a place to lay their head for the winter season, for about $1,100 a month.
“I went to a notice board at a café, and I was standing looking at it, when someone saw my sign and approached me,” recounts Page.
“He said ‘Are you looking for a room?’ and I said ‘Yes’, so I sat down and had breakfast with him. He told me to come up and see the room at four o’clock that afternoon. I did, and he said yes straight away.”
The success of Page’s sign has sparked a tiny trend among seasonal workers who have recently arrived in Whistler. Last week, several people were seen wandering the village with cardboard advertisements hanging from their body.
Kristian Waller, 26, from Australia, is among the new cardboard trailblazers. Last week he spent three days walking around the village with a sign hanging from his neck that read: “26 yo mature sales professional seeking accommodation. I am clean, tidy, friendly and easy-going. Responsible and financially secure. Please call Kristian on 604-906-0731 or say ‘hi’ to me now!”
Waller, who worked as an accounts manager for MTV Networks back home, said while he has not found a permanent home, he now has a place to stay for the next month.
“Not even two minutes after putting the sign around my neck, a guy came up to me and took me to one of his mates who introduced me and said he had a place. Unfortunately, he had just given it to someone else,” said Waller of the sign’s impact.
Waller said he also met a lot of people who are looking for a place and said they might try out the sign idea.
Page said one of the reasons why the sign was so effective is because landlords are hesitant to advertise their phone numbers because of the flood of phone calls that follow. And even though he found a place to live within a day of wearing the sign, he is still receiving calls from interested landlords and has been offered about six different places to live.
He added that something needs to be done about the housing situation in Whistler because, “this is ridiculous.”
“I just would like to make people aware that when the Olympics come, there is not going to be anyone to run the town. It is going to be a massive problem,” said Page, who will get kicked out of his newly found home in May because his landlords plans to renovate and sell the property prior to the Winter Games.
“Accommodation prices are going up way too much and the pay rates are not going to go up that much, so people are not going to be allowed to live here anymore… I don’t think there is going to be enough staff to run the Olympics. There will probably be a mass exodus out of Whistler before the Olympics, and there will be no one to run the cafes and restaurants.”
The cardboard sign trend comes two weeks after plans for the Phoenix Housing Project were cancelled because of trouble finding a supplier. The housing project was intended to provide a temporary 308-bed neighbourhood out of recycled shipping containers to house Whistler employees from November this year until after the Olympics.
With a total of 53 seeking accommodation ads in last week’s Pique, the lack of available rental housing in Whistler is visible. While housing shortages have always been an issue, the situation may be more desperate than usual.
In fact, Page’s cardboard sign caught the attention of business owner Tom Horler, a member of the Phoenix Housing Board, who posted Page’s picture on VoteWhistler.com.
“The short term housing crunch is the worst I have seen in the 15 years I have lived here,” wrote Horler on the website.