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employee housing

While Whistler has seen an unprecedented boom in construction this summer, that very construction is expected to contribute to the worst housing crisis ever this winter. Wendy Mah, employment co-ordinator at the Whistler employment centre, says there has been a housing crisis all summer. The proliferation of new businesses that will open in Village North this winter, and the staff they require, will accentuate the situation. But new employees won't just be competing with each other for places to live. Construction workers, many of whom are from out of town, will be working on several projects that aren't expected to be finished until mid-December, and a couple that will be under construction well into February. No new affordable housing projects have been built this summer, but there may be some relief if temporary housing — in the form of trailers — becomes available. That's one of the options Blackcomb is looking at, but Diane Rabbani, vice-president of human resources for Intrawest's resort operations group, says the trailers are not a sure thing. "The prices are very high, even for used trailers," Rabbani says. Blackcomb is asking employees in staff housing to consider taking three in a room, rather than two. Blackcomb is also taking out ads asking locals and weekenders with spare rooms to consider renting them to Blackcomb employees. "We do psychological tests, reference checking and extensive screening before hiring anyone, so we think our employees are good people to rent to," Rabbani says. "We're the biggest employer in the valley but we also have the biggest pool of employee housing." Blackcomb hires about 800 additional staff for the winter season and has housing for more than half of those employees. But with the anticipated housing crunch the lift company is looking for more. Whistler Mountain, which employs about 900 in total at the height of the ski season, will hire about an extra 40 people this winter to staff the new lounge it is building at the base of the Express Gondola. Whistler has beds for about 220 employees. But the big demand for housing is expected to come from the new businesses that open in Village North. More than 80 new retail, commercial or office locations will open up in the Whistler Town Plaza, Tyndall Stone Lodge and Market Pavilion this winter. As well, those projects and the Stoney Creek development will bring nearly 300 suites on to the market. Those suites will require housekeeping staff, maintenance personnel and property managers. While the third building in the Town Plaza project won't open until mid-February, that still means construction crews and tradespeople will be in town working — and occupying beds — until the project is completed. Intrawest's Blackcomb Springs hotel project is also expected to be under construction all winter. Last week council deferred a decision on a proposal to put trailers at Blackcomb and at the privately-owned former Rainbow ski site. Ann Chiasson, one of the owners of the Rainbow property, says the idea is still alive, but there are no details yet on what it would cost to install the trailers. While the scramble for temporary housing measures is underway, some are beginning to wonder what is happening with the roughly $2 million the municipality and Whistler Valley Housing Society have accrued in employee housing charges from new developments. "With $2 million they could probably build a $4 million project," says Blackcomb General Manager Scott Carrell. The municipality had been hoping private developers would build some affordable housing this summer on land set aside for that purpose in Millar's Pond. However, developers felt they needed more information before they could bid on the project and time ran out on the construction season.