By Vivian Moreau
When Evan Williams came to Whistler four weeks ago he quickly found a job as the lead cook for Whistler-Blackcomb’s Roundhouse. But finding a place to live hasn’t been as easy. With his employer’s staff housing at full occupancy, the Australian has been having a tough time locating a place in Whistler to call home.
“I haven’t found a damn thing,” Williams said. Since arriving from Perth he’s phoned about 20 rooms advertised for rent but all were taken by the time he called.
Whistler-Blackcomb’s head of recruiting says his company has more than 100 employees on an accommodation waitlist. Whistler-Blackcomb hires more than 1,300 employees each winter and provides 1,158 beds for first-year employees but had 130 on a waitlist at press time.
“This is unfortunately not all that abnormal,” said Whistler-Blackcomb’s Kirby Brown. “The past two years we’ve nailed it in terms of having the waitlist small enough that the turnover was like one or two weeks, but this is the first year in three that we’ve really seen it become an issue again.”
Williams has been paying $230 a week to stay at a local bed and breakfast. Arranged through the Chamber of Commerce’s Shoestring project that connected newly arrived seasonal workers with local hoteliers and innkeepers willing to provide inexpensive accommodation while the newcomers looked for work, the project is set to shut down in two weeks, leaving seasonal workers like Williams frantic for a home.
Williams’s story is familiar to Greg McDonnell, a youth services worker with Whistler Community Services Society.
“In my opinion there seems to be a plethora of jobs and not enough places to stay,” McDonnell said.
For the past seven weeks McDonnell has been coordinating temporary emergency accommodation for young workers. With municipal funding the society rented a local bed and breakfast, hired two managers and provided accommodation for workers that included two meals a day for $10 a night.
McDonnell says he’s heard stories of some newcomers having to quit their jobs when they couldn’t find a space to live.
Brown says Whistler-Blackcomb has managed to avoid that situation — just.
“We’ve had a couple of people say ‘find us a spot or we’re going’ but those people we’ve been able to help thus far,” Brown said.
But McDonnell’s project that helped about 20 workers ended Nov. 24 and coupled with the Shoestring project wrapping up, options are slim for those still looking for shelter.
Whistler’s international hostel is fully booked through to early January and the manager of the 34-bed facility on Alta Lake Road says they are turning away 10 times as many people as they can accommodate.
“It was difficult before to get a bed, but now it’s just about impossible,” said hostel manager Darcy MacKay.
MacKay said he advises those looking for long-term accommodation to consider Pemberton or Squamish as housing options, and also to post notices on billboards and talk to people in the village.
“I give them strong warnings about these bloodsuckers in town (some dubious landlords) who are trying to get them to part with their hard-earned cash,” he said, relating a story of one landlord with a 10-bedroom house, trying to rake in $30,000 a month by charging those three to a room $1,000 a month each.
“You can’t tell me there is anything in the valley that is worth that rent,” MacKay said.
Other landlords like Tenney Wilkins said he was inundated with calls after placing an ad in Pique Newsmagazine to rent one bedroom in the three-bedroom house he has leased in White Gold for 10 years.
“What happened was I didn’t want to come home,” Wilkins said. “There was not a moment’s peace.” The surveyor, who has lived in Whistler for 25 years, said he turned his answering machine off after booking 20 viewing appointments for the $900 room, which included utilities and additional office space.
Evan Williams says he is feeling the stress of not having his own space.
“I want to make a go of staying in Whistler,” he said. “Everything else is really good — I just can’t relax.”