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We're working on it



Members of the business community packed council chambers Tuesday to deliver a message about the desperate need for short term employee housing. And with people straining to hear from the hallway and stairway exits, council responded: we’re working on it.

Five speakers made presentations to council Tuesday, each emphasizing they were not there to endorse any particular housing project, acknowledging that the business community hasn’t been vocal enough on housing issues in the past, and making a point of applauding the past efforts of councils to create employee housing.

They also made the point that more needs to be done.

Horror stories about the living conditions some employees have to put up with were plentiful. One restaurant owner reported some of his staff lived in a house of 20 employees, each paying $700 a month rent. "I wasn’t sure whether to report the landlord or thank him," the restaurateur wrote to the chamber of commerce. Another business owner reported 11 women living in a two-bedroom unit.

David Campbell, representing the Commercial Core Committee told council: "The word is out, Whistler is no longer a fun place to live.

"There was a serious, extreme lack of employees this past winter," Campbell said. "In many cases anyone who came to the door was hired."

Campbell asked that affordable housing be given the same status as transportation and the environment in the municipality’s sustainability strategy.

Drew Meredith talked about the recent "mixed signals" from council, staff and the Whistler Housing Authority regarding the need for seasonal employee housing. After "the worst season ever," Meredith said it was no time for a palace revolt. "I’m here to support and encourage you to keep working to solve the affordable housing problem."

Meredith said the only private developer to ever build any rental employee housing in Whistler has been Whistler-Blackcomb. He also noted there are few sites left in Whistler suitable for employee housing.

"We must be pro-active rather than reactive," he said.

Tanya Ewasiuk, a chamber of commerce director, told council she felt the housing authority and council were underestimating the need for employee housing. Ewasiuk referred to a chamber survey this year which estimated Whistler was short more than 1,000 employee beds, and she suggested many employees are "dramatically underhoused."

Ron Hosner, representing the Creekside Merchants Association and the Whistler Food and Beverage Association, said it was his belief council and municipal staff were reaching a level of comfort on the employee housing issue.

"We disagree," Hosner said. "I believe we’re further away from solving the issue than we were five years ago when the housing authority was created."