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Housing remains 'highest priority' at outset of 2020, Whistler mayor says

Whistler Housing Authority housing needs assessment shows 'relatively stable' workforce

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At the outset of a new year and a new decade, nothing has changed in terms of Whistler council's highest priority.

"(Housing) is at the very top," said Mayor Jack Crompton after the first council meeting of the new year on Jan. 7.

"We are wholly focused on delivering the recommendations of the mayor's task force on housing."

On top of the housing priority list for 2020 is a new Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) building at 1330 Cloudburst Dr. in Cheakamus Crossing, delivering on Parcel A in Cheakamus' Phase 2, and doing some long-term planning around the housing file, the mayor added.

An update on Parcel A is set to come to council sometime in the first quarter of 2020.

At the start of the new decade, Whistler's workforce appears to be "relatively stable," according to the WHA's Marla Zucht, who was on hand for the meeting to present the organization's 2019 Employer Housing Needs Assessment.

That said, the number of Full-Time Equivalent positions is projected to grow from 16,100 in winter 2018-19 to 17,200 in 2019-20, mostly due to projected workforce increases among large firms, according to the survey, which was completed by about 165 businesses representing approximately 60 per cent of the total workforce.

In total, 53 per cent of respondents said they expect staffing levels to stay the same in 2019-20, while 38 per cent are expecting an increase and nine per cent expect a decrease.

While staffing shortages are a perennial problem in Whistler, the number of businesses unable to fully meet their winter staffing needs fell slightly from 42 per cent to 38 per cent last year.

As for summer 2019, 49 per cent of respondents said they were unable to fully staff their businesses (compared to 38 per cent in 2018 and 37 per cent in 2017).

"Summer is becoming more and more of an issue and it's not necessarily a housing issue," said Councillor John Grills. "So as a council and staff we've got to look at that to see the impact that's having on the community. What are the challenges and how can we address them?"

In Zucht's view, the general trend in the workforce is towards more "full-time consistency in the positions and a decrease in part-time positions," she said.

"But overall there's a fair bit of stability still in the workforce. We're not seeing drastic changes," she said. "From the winter workforce to the summer workforce there was a retention of about 78 per cent, so 78 per cent of the winter workforce is being re-employed in the summer, so that's showing pretty good consistency in the workforce."

The number of employers providing housing for their workers continues to trend upwards, hitting 22 per cent in 2019 (compared to 20 per cent in 2018, 19 per cent in 2017 and 18 per cent in 2016).

All of that said, Whistler is still meeting its target of housing at least 75 per cent of the workforce locally.

"This past winter, it was 77 per cent of the overall workforce, which was a decrease from the year prior, where we had 81 per cent of employees residing (locally), but there was quite a large increase in the number of seasonal workforce," Zucht said, adding that seasonal employees living locally increased from 83 per cent in 2018 to 95 per cent in 2019.

A different figure from the survey caught Crompton's eye.

"The number that jumps out most to me is that 50 per cent of the employees living in Whistler are housed in resident-restricted housing. That's incredibly impressive when you compare it to the rest of B.C., the rest of Canada," the mayor said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us on the housing file but I think it's important that we acknowledge the successes we've had as well."

Full survey results will be sent to respondents and posted to the WHA's website at www.whistlerhousing.ca.

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