Ask anyone looking for a place to rent in Whistler these days — it is a tough market. And while the problem of affordable housing is nothing new to the resort town, things are predicted to get even tougher with the approaching Olympics.
Two months ago, in an attempt to find additional beds to house the growing workforce leading up to 2010, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and the Whistler Housing Authority launched an innovative affordable housing program called H.O.M.E. (House Our Many Employees).
The idea behind H.O.M.E. is that by matching absentee homeowners with local businesses Whistler could tap into existing accommodation units that have not been available to employees in the past. The involvement of the Chamber of Commerce and the WHA was expected to provide legitimacy to the program and make it relatively hassle-free for participants.
Unfortunately, the program has yet to take off. WHA Chair Gordon McKeever, head of the initiative, said that while there have been inquiries by businesses and landlords, no one has been matched up.
“It was never anticipated to be a phenomenally huge program. We set a modest goal of 100 beds, and anything we can contribute to create more residential beds is a positive thing right now,” said McKeever.
He added that one of the challenges of H.O.M.E. has been reaching absentee homeowners who are not currently offering their places for rent because they live too far away to properly monitor the rental process.
“The main outreach of the H.O.M.E. program is not the people in the community. It is the absentee homeowners who are looking for an option to rent and get that revenue, but want a hassle-free experience,” said McKeever.
“One of the ways that we’ve been thinking of reaching them is in the papers in the Seattle area and the greater Vancouver area. There are a lot of homeowners living in those two communities,” he said.
The program is currently slated to run for the winter of 2007-08. But even if H.O.M.E. does help soften the housing shortage, McKeever predicts it will continue until 2010.
“However, having recognized the challenge of housing in the medium term, in the next few years council and municipal hall are also going to be putting a lot of thought and effort into addressing this problem,” added McKeever.
“So if this isn’t a productive avenue, then we need to focus our energies and our resources on more productive avenues,” he said.
According to McKeever, Whistler has done more on a per capita basis to address affordable housing than any other community in North America.
Almost a third of the population currently sleeps in resident-restricted beds. And once the Olympics end and the municipality capitalizes on housing initiatives such as the athletes’ village, one in two people will live in a bed that was created through Whistler’s affordable housing initiatives.
“Anecdotally, I think this winter that has just gone by was one of the worst for lodging problems for local residents. And there is no reason to assume it is going to get any easier over the next three years,” said McKeever.
“However, what I see on the horizon is an enormous amount of relief. In fact, I see the capacity to have wrestled our affordable housing problem to the ground by 2011.”