With the hiring of Rick Staehli as general manager of the housing corporation and the public hearing scheduled for the 19 Mile Creek employee housing proposal, Whistler could be at a turning point in its perpetual housing debate. It’s about time. If we are ever really going to address the issue of housing for year-round employees who want to make Whistler their home, the time is now. We’re not talking about seasonal employees — Intrawest, as the largest single employer of seasonal workers, has done a good job providing housing for those people. We’re talking about people who have lived and worked in Whistler for some time, people who already have a stake in the community and contribute to the community, but who would contribute more if they were given the opportunity to make Whistler their permanent home. Several factors suggest that now is the time to build employee housing. Interest rates remain low, trades are available, land is available and there appears to be a willingness within municipal hall to get on with the job. The creation, last fall, of the Whistler Housing Authority is evidence of the political will to build employee housing. For the first time in Whistler’s history responsibility for employee housing has been handed to a separate, professional authority which can deal with projects and issues on a full-time basis, rather than reacting to specific proposals and dealing with them as time and other duties allow. Staehli has the ideal background and experience for the job of general manager of the housing authority, including eight years with the B.C. Housing Management Commission and 40 years living in the region. Staehli also understands the prejudices and political obstacles facing employee housing. As director of development and technical services with the provincial Housing Management Commission, he came to understand the importance of education in social housing, including introducing neighbours to the people in social housing projects. That’s an aspect of employee housing that has long been overlooked in Whistler — putting a face on the people who occupy employee housing projects. That works hand-in-hand with another principle Staehli believes in, integrating employee housing into existing neighbourhoods. The argument that employee housing brings down surrounding property values just is not true — the Housing Management Commission couldn’t find an example in all of North America where that was the case — so long as it is properly integrated. Integrating housing in existing neighbourhoods is also cost effective. If, as some people would prefer, all future employee housing projects were built in some isolated area, away from existing neighbourhoods, it’s unlikely they would be affordable, because of the cost of extending services to the area. To build housing in such areas and keep them affordable would probably require a direct subsidy, something which existing housing projects have avoided. There are several measures in the works to help with the education process. One step that might help everyone involved would be for prospective employee housing owners to make an appearance at public information meetings and public hearings on such projects. Get out and meet your future neighbours; see if we can all live together in this narrow valley.