The answer to Whistler’s seasonal housing crisis could lie in a temporary trailer camp close to the village.
A Chamber of Commerce task force is investigating the possibility of bringing trailers to Whistler, parking them on the highway works yard opposite Alta Vista and getting businesses on board to cover the lease payments.
“I know it’s not the best solution, and I know it’s not a silver bullet either, but it’s the best thing that we’ve come across so far,” said Councillor Ralph Forsyth, co-chair of the H.O.M.E. (Housing Our Many Employees) task force.
It’s too late for this year but if the concept proves worthwhile the trailer camp could be ready for the 2008-09 winter season and the following year, which includes the 2010 Winter Games.
The task force members are in discussion with a Vancouver-based company, First Canadian Development Corporation, that provides services to the mining, oil and gas, medical, relief and low-income housing markets.
First Canadian president Wayne Addison recently toured several sites in Whistler, from Function Junction to Rainbow, and the highways works yard came out on top. It was the flattest and biggest piece of land and, as far as he understands it, the site is serviced.
“We’re by no means picking the site,” he said. “We’re just showing where our product works best.”
He estimates that 200 to 250 employee beds could go there.
But the challenges are not lost on Councillor Forsyth.
The site is owned by Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations, transferred to them just this year as one of the eight sites in Whistler that make up their 300-acre legacy lands, promised from the 2010 Games. The First Nations would have to agree to the deal before it could get off the ground.
Council, too, would need to approve a rezoning that would allow temporary housing on the site.
And the mayor, at first blush, is not keen on the idea of temporary trailer housing.
“I’m not a personal fan of temporary housing,” said Ken Melamed. “Temporary is an easy thing to say, it’s harder to actually remove it once you put it on. There’s all kinds of examples of things that have been built that have been temporary that have ended up being there for quite some time. Frankly I think it goes against our housing policy in terms of providing housing where people feel like they’re part of the community.”
He explained that Whistler’s employee housing to date looks like regular market housing.
“This would be a departure from that.”
But perhaps the most crucial part of the whole equation is that local businesses need to step up to the plate and effectively “buy” the units by agreeing to lease them over a period of time and then rent them to their employees.
“It’s a very good idea,” said Addison. “Whether it’s economically viable or not I can’t put my stamp on that yet.”
He is working on a rough conceptual plan that he hopes to deliver to the chamber’s task force this week.
For task force co-chair Tom Horler the concept is very exciting and comes out of September’s public forum where businesses expressed their concern about the upcoming winter seasons and how they would house their employees.
“This problem is the biggest crisis Whistler is facing, period,” said Horler.
“We’re just trying hard to come up with creative solutions… This is business taking care of a business problem.”
Forsyth added that the idea of a trailer camp in Whistler was one of the most viable solutions to come out of that public forum.
“The community is going to need to get its head around this,” he said.
“It has to go through a lot of processes before it even becomes a real thing but it’s the best, and the only shot that we’ve got so far.”
This winter is setting up to be one of the most challenging winters for seasonal housing Whistler has seen.
And while he has some concerns the mayor said all options are still on the table as the business community and its partners work together to find solutions.
“Nothing has been taken off the table but… my preference is to look for other options than trailer camps,” he said.
To find out more about the products offered by First Canadian Development Corporation go to www.fcdccamps.com.