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By Loreth Beswetherick As Whistler eases into February and millennium madness memories start to fade, the employee housing crunch remains constant. Whistler Housing Authority general manager Rick Staehli said the authority is still inundated with requests for employee accommodation and he hopes surveys and a study planned for the summer will help throw light on why. "The situation has eased up a little but that could be because people are just giving up," said Staehli. "I still believe we have a 200-bed shortage right now. There is an awful lot of couch surfing happening and an awful lot of kids have moved to Pemberton and Squamish who would rather be here," he said. "We do know the pressure is still on and we are not sure why." Staehli said he believes units that used to be available on the Whistler employee housing rental market are just no longer there. The authority, along with the mountains, anticipated the housing squeeze would ease by mid January. It was felt many homes traditionally rented to short-term employees were being held back to cash in on lucrative nightly millennium holiday rentals and that the properties would find their way back into the rental market early in the new year. This does not appear to have happened. Staehli said there could be many reasons for this year’s unanticipated crunch. He said homeowners who traditionally rent to employees may have made enough cash in nightly rentals over December and January and are not bothering with employee rentals this season. Some owners may also be occupying their own properties. "Moving in is definitely one scenario. That is happening but to what degree we don’t know," said Staehli. "Another possible scenario is the 19 Mile units are only now being occupied and so there is some time lag there." The housing authority hopes surveys to be conducted by students in the summer will help get a more accurate read on the situation. A questionnaire will go out to every homeowner asking what the short- and long-term plans for their properties are. "We will feed that information back into our formula," said Staehli. Students will also canvass employers and past studies will be updated. The authority will also be digging a little deeper and for that it will need the help of a consultant. Staehli said WHA is questioning its affordability equation and needs to find out if the accommodation currently being produced is still actually within financial reach of those who need it. "Perhaps all those who could afford it have bought and now the new one’s can’t. If that is the case, I would like to know how many, what the price levels are and how do we get there. This is a big question mark in my mind that we need to get resolved this year."

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