Opinion » Editorial

Put the pieces together



What is it about the housing situation that consistently leaves Whistler out of step with reality no matter the effort put in by organizations such as the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA)?

The resort's housing "crisis" has been the topic of this space scores of times since Pique first started covering Whistler news and events.

Yes, perhaps it feels more pressing now due to the growing busyness of the resort and the subsequent need for more workers. But this is an issue that is a perennial one, not just for our resort, but others as well. Indeed, affordable housing headlines have been in the media across B.C. for months.

This week, the public clamouring for action has resulted in action at the municipal level. Whistler's council has directed staff to come up with some short- and medium-term solutions as we head toward what will likely be a very busy winter.

We learned that the WHA is looking for sites to build more employee-restricted housing and that a workshop will be held for tenants and landlords.

Looking back on the issue over the years there are always a few themes that are common — not enough people are applying for the work that we have, we pretty well always seem to have work since Whistler, for the most part, has continued to grow, and no matter how much employee-restricted housing is put in place, it doesn't seem to be enough.

It is understandable that organizations that deal with housing, like the WHA — and to a lesser extent the municipal government and even Whistler Blackcomb — are cautious about building their way out of the problem.

But honestly, to build more housing, three things are needed — free land (we have that at Cheakamus), low interest rates (we have those, too) and developers (pretty sure we have plenty of those in Whistler).

About 200 units will come on line before the end of next year. But with at least 500 people on the WHA list to rent, and at least the same number waiting to buy employee housing, the new housing will hardly make a dent.

This week saw the release of the WHA's Employer Housing Needs Assessment 2016 final report.

Stacked with stats that describe the changing, yet familiar, face of housing in Whistler you can't escape from one serious conclusion; businesses continue to struggle finding enough staff, and appropriate (or any) housing is a big part of the reason why.

In the 2015-16 winter season, only 65 per cent of businesses surveyed were able to find enough staff. In 2014-15, 83 per cent of businesses could staff fully — roughly the same percentage as in 2003-04. Though that stat has fluctuated it's never been close to 65 per cent until now. (The summer number was down at 67 per cent.)

Resort businesses were short 820 staff last winter season. Did that make a difference in service levels, businesses opening hours, staff spirit? Hard to imagine it didn't have an impact (in 2014-15 the shortage was 300 workers).

Why are not enough workers coming to Whistler to work? We are an amazing place to live at every age.

Of course, there is no one answer to this decades-old question. Yes, housing is an issue, the cost of living is an issue (linked obviously to the wages paid to resort workers), the experience of living here is also changing as the resort gets busier and busier — these are all issues that make some people think twice about moving here.

According to the WHA survey Whistler's workforce is projected to total about 15,000 FTE employees in the 2016-17 winter season — a 3.2 per cent increase.

If Whistler Blackcomb Holdings' new owner, Vail Resorts, goes ahead with the Renaissance upgrade plans hundreds more workers will be needed. One wonders how they are going to get them? Locals may change jobs to work as part of the expansion but that will just push the problem down the line.

Whistler is not going to get more workers living here unless affordable housing comes on line for both the short-term worker and for those who want to make this their home.

Workers who are thinking of moving here are surely being influenced by the near continuous social media chatter about the issue of housing — or lack thereof.

While it is encouraging that council and staff are moving on this issue, action is needed immediately — not more studies.

Look up — the snowline is moving down the mountain. Winter is coming.


Add a comment