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Rental market hits four-year high

Despite Olympics, many units available in Whistler, but prices remain steep

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The predicted Olympic housing crunch that was on everyone's lips two years ago never came, the general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority Marla Zucht confirmed this week.

While at one time the Whistler community was on a hunt to find as many beds as possible in the lead up to the Olympic Games, there were more rental units on the market this winter than in the past four years.

"We really didn't feel the housing crunch at all that we were expecting this winter," said Zucht. "Really, from the beginning of the year, the statistics have been up from last year."

Zucht pointed to businesses in Whistler hiring fewer employees or Whistler Blackcomb having more housing units available as possible reasons why so much rental accommodation was available.

"The winter went fairly smoothly," she said.

Fifty-two units were available in Whistler during the last week of February, compared to 47 in 2009 and 17 in 2008, according to information the WHA collects on open-market rental housing from Pique Newsmagazine and The Question .

Likewise during the week of Feb. 15, the WHA counted 41 units advertised on the rental market, which is on par with the 42 in 2009 and up significantly from 11 in 2008.

This reality flies in the face of predictions from the community over the past few years that rental accommodation would be impossible to find in Whistler during the Olympic year.

In fact, two years ago, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and the WHA teamed up to launch a program called H.O.M.E. (House Our Many Employees). The program was designed to link landlords with employees and tap into additional accommodation units. The program never took off.

Following that, the chamber worked with businesses to provide temporary housing for hundreds of staff in a program called the Phoenix Housing Project. The program fell through at the last minute, however, when the American developer hired for the project failed to secure a much-needed loan.

The latest initiative to house the hordes of predicted homeless staff over the Olympics came from a private developer, Alvaro Ponce de Leon.

For the past year, Ponce de Leon invested significant cash into a project he called the Whistler Workforce Housing project. He rented several large trailer-like buildings and a plot of land near the village. But while the North Vancouver developer started advertising the 400-or-so beds in his complex in November 2008, as of January this year no one was signed up for his complex.

This week, a cheerless Ponce de Leon said he lost a significant amount of money over his Olympic housing project.

He remains perplexed why the predicted Olympic housing crunch, which he was so sure would happen, never came.

Meanwhile, Zucht suspects the rental housing market will continue to open up this summer and into the fall.

Almost 90 per cent of the recent purchasers at Cheakamus Crossing - a.k.a. the athletes' village - are coming from rental properties in Whistler. And when those people start to move into their new WHA homes in the late summer or early fall, more than 200 rental units in Whistler could open up.

A similar trend was seen this fall when the Fitzsimmons Walk units entered the WHA inventory, opening up an additional 30 rental spots in Whistler, said Zucht.

The Rainbow properties, however, probably won't impact the rental market significantly, she said, since most of the people who have bought at that development are coming from Squamish, Pemberton or other units already in the WHA's inventory.

Despite the supply of rental units in Whistler, however, prices remain at an all-time high.

"We are not seeing a reduction in rental prices yet," said Zucht. "If we do, it will be this summer. It would be nice if we see a little downward pressure on those because they are quite high right now."

Studios currently rent for an average of $1,600 per month, compared to $1,470 in 2009 and $1,096 in 2008. A one bedroom rents for an average $1,585 per month, compared to $1,551 in 2009 and $1,275 in 2008. And a two bedroom rents for $2,401, compared to $2,377 in 2009 and $1,887 in 2008.

Rent for three-bedroom units is currently around $3,127 and single-family homes $3,321 per month.

 

 

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