The shortage of affordable rental housing in Whistler was brought back into the spotlight earlier this month when six illegal crawl spaces were discovered in Nordic Estates.
And while a lack of housing has always been a topic of concern for the resort town, things are not expected to get better as the Olympics approach.
In fact, according to Marla Zucht, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), the problem will likely become amplified.
“It will become a heightened problem because there will be more employees in town related to hosting the Olympics. So there will be a greater number of workers in town above and beyond the regular number of workforce required to run the resort,” said Zucht.
She said, however, it is hard to predict at this point exactly what the magnitude of the problem will be.
“We are concerned about it. It is definitely on our radar screen. We are trying to put preparations in place. But we are still awaiting from VANOC a better estimation of the number of additional employees that will be in town really related to hosting the Olympics,” said Zucht.
Dick Vollet, vice president for the VANOC workforce, said that it is too early for Olympic organizers to predict how many employees will eventually be working in Whistler, but that very few are expected to move here in the near future.
Vollet added that the organization is working closely with the accommodation group in Whistler on the issue of employee housing.
“Our main focus is to engage the community and make sure we’re doing the right thing as we move workers into the area,” said Vollet.
The Whistler Chamber of Commerce is currently conducting a survey amongst businesses on employee projections leading up to 2010 to get a better idea of exactly how many more beds will be needed.
“Right now what we are tying to do is get a handle on what the numbers are because it is very hard for us to go to the municipality and say ‘we’ve got some housing issues and we are going to need more employee housing’ if we don’t have the numbers,” said Louise Lundy, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.
She added that the combination of two good snow years and the approaching Olympics have already started putting pressure on housing and there is “definitely a lot of couch surfing going on.”
“You also have to factor in that there are so many Olympic-related projects underway right now, and there is so much construction happening. So lots of construction workers are coming in and taking up all the tourism-related employee housing spots,” said Lundy.