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Municipality seeking employee housing solutions

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With fewer beds available to Whistler employees each year, despite the efforts of the Whistler Housing Authority and some local businesses, the municipality is looking for ways to address housing issues without revising the existing bed cap.

"As we move towards sustainability, there’s one big issue we haven’t addressed, and that’s the social aspects – affordability," said municipal Counc. Ken Melamed, addressing the monthly AWARE meeting on Oct. 4.

"Two-thirds of Whistler employees, 7,000 people, live in market housing and they’re slowly being forced out. Prices are going up and landlords are evicting community employees."

Since a bed cap ceiling was set at 52,500 in 1988, the only time that the municipality has violated the cap took place two years ago as part of the three-way deal between Intrawest, Decigon and the municipality that gave the municipality ownership of the Emerald Forest.

"We have come to the conclusion that we’re not going to solve the problem by building new beds, we’ll just be building new beds," says Melamed.

Doing nothing is not an option, either: "We’re committed to finding a solution. To have a healthy community is to have everyone here and living together, employees and visitors. It’s a unique arrangement we want to preserve. That’s why we fought so hard and were raked over the coals for developments like 19 Mile Creek and Beaver Flats."

Keeping employees in Whistler is consistent with the municipality’s environmental sustainability initiative, cutting down on the number of commuters in single passenger vehicles.

The municipality has hired a consultant to look at existing housing as a possible solution that is consistent with the sustainability initiative and other long-term goals of the community, said Melamed – "To wrap their heads around what’s going on in Whistler."

Another related issue that the municipality is looking at is the illegal nightly rental business. Some house owners are renting their places out to resort visitors, violating zoning bylaws, and Melamed believes that this practice is also taking its toll on available employee housing.

"The more owners that rent nightly, the fewer that are going to be renting to employees."

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