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WHA launches 17th Housing Needs Assessment

Survey provides vital tool to assess Whistler's workforce and related housing needs



The Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) has launched its 17th Housing Needs Assessment, and is asking local businesses to complete a survey to help determine the employment characteristics and housing needs of the resort's workforce.

"It's probably the best, and maybe the only tool we have to really get feedback on the current situation as to meeting the (housing) needs of seasonal employees," said John Grills, a council appointee to the WHA board.

The annual assessment is an invaluable way for the WHA to determine if Whistler is meeting its goal of housing a minimum of 75 per cent of the resort's workforce locally. That benchmark has been met since the 2010/11 winter season, with 80 per cent of Whistler's workforce housed within municipal boundaries last year.

The assessment's results, which will be presented to council and the community in the fall, also reveal if resort businesses were able to fill their staffing needs over the winter. In the 2012/13 season, only five per cent of Whistler employers polled said they were short-staffed, representing around 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, down from a shared high in 2000/01, 2005/06 and 2007/08 of 30 per cent. None of the businesses polled last year attributed the shortages to a lack of available housing.

"Certainly I don't want to see what we saw pre-Olympics when we were that short–staffed because it has a huge impact on service levels and all sorts of things," Grills said.

The resort workforce has been on the decline since Whistler's Olympic year, when there were nearly 14,000 FTE positions filled. Last winter, Whistler's workforce was made up of 12,200 FTE employees, with a slight increase projected for the 2013/14 winter season.

Anecdotally, there was some talk that many seasonal employees had difficulty obtaining housing ahead of the peak season this winter, and WHA GM Marla Zucht said that could be the result of homeowners removing their properties from the rental pool.

"What we found this season was that we certainly didn't have the same number of units that we typically see come available in the summer season, so it seemed like the rental market has tightened up again, and this is probably the first time we've experienced that since the Olympics," she noted.

To that end, Zucht said the WHA will keep an eye on a proposal from developers of the incoming Rainbow Plaza to build 65 rental units in Rainbow, which also includes plans for 24,000 square feet of commercial space. An earlier proposal was to install 48 residential units.

"If there are an additional 65 rental units coming onto the market, that will certainly help meet that demand," she said.

Currently, the waitlist at WHA for restricted rental units is at about 200, Zucht said, who pointed to rental properties coming online in Cheakamus Crossing and in Rainbow in recent years as helping to reduce that demand. The WHA waitlist for purchasing homes sits at about 350 at the moment.

With an affordable housing model in place for nearly two decades, Zucht applauded municipal officials for their continued support of the WHA, saying that Whistler has been a shining example for other B.C. communities looking to get a handle on the current Canada-wide housing crunch.

"Our resident-restricted housing program is really looked at strongly — even the City of Vancouver is looking at our model and perhaps looking at creating a housing authority to address affordable housing challenges," she said.

The BC Non-Profit Housing Association recently highlighted the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' decision to focus on affordable housing as a priority in 2014.

The WHA Housing Needs Assessment survey closes June 13.