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Whistler continuing to meet housing needs



Once upon a time — like four years ago — finding a room in Whistler was an expensive and near-impossible proposition. But since the run-up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Whistler's housing market has been influenced by two trends: a sizeable increase in the number of employee rental and purchase housing (mainly at Cheakamus Crossing and Rainbow), and a marked decline in the number of people required for the workforce.

The result, according to the Whistler Housing Authority's (WHA) annual Housing Needs Assessment, is that over 80 per cent of resort employees are now living within the resort, well ahead of the municipal goal of 75 per cent.

In 2007-2008, some 30 per cent of Whistler businesses reported being unable to achieve full staffing levels, dropping to five per cent last season. Of that five per cent, none of the businesses said that the lack of housing was a factor in being unable to fill those positions.

"The trends are still tracking fairly close to the last few years," said WHA general manager Marla Zucht, who presented the report to council on Oct. 1. "The number of workers residing locally had a slight decrease from 82 per cent to 80 per cent this year... we're still exceeding that (75 per cent) goal, but that's a number we'll continue to keep our eyes on.

"We're also happy to see that most businesses were able to achieve full staffing, and of the five per cent that weren't, none of the responses were the result of a lack of affordable housing."

Councillor John Grills, who sits on the board of the WHA, reinforced the importance of the data, which the WHA has been collecting for 16 years.

"Right now everything is fine," said Grills, adding that it would be disastrous if staffing levels and housing issues were to return to the 2007-2008 levels.

The WHA study costs $10,000 each year, but Zucht said that tracking the baseline data every year lets WHA spot changes quickly.

The size of the workforce has dropped in recent years, and according to the WHA's annual survey of businesses the resort's workforce will be roughly 12,100 this year. That's down from almost 14,000 during the Olympic year.

The WHA waitlist for purchasing homes is currently sitting at 335 names, with about 34 per cent of which are families looking to move into a different area or unit size. People renting market housing still account for the largest share of waitlisters at 41 per cent.

— With files from Alison Taylor