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Whistler feeling the housing crunch

Housing shortage on council's radar for remainder of term



Whistler is never an easy place to find rental housing, especially during the busy winter season, but according to local officials and new arrivals to the resort, this year has been especially difficult.

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wihelm-Morden said housing is an issue that will be on council's radar for the remainder of her term, and that she's heard from recent resort transplants and at Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) board meetings about the lack of available rental accommodation.

"We didn't have a housing availability crunch in the most recent past, but it seems that it's caught up with us this year," she said. "I know that anecdotally from young people I know who've moved here to Whistler and had difficulty finding a place."

While complete WHA housing figures for the winter season are unavailable, as of press time there are only two properties listed for rent on the housing authority's website. A spokesperson for WHA did not respond to Pique's request for comment by deadline.

German national Simon Maetzic moved to the resort a month ago, and while the 20-year-old Crystal Lodge employee had no trouble finding work upon his arrival, he hasn't had the same luck with housing. Pique also heard from two other residents who have experienced similar troubles.

"Everybody said that there are plenty of jobs and you have to look for housing first, but I thought it wouldn't be this bad," Maetzic said, adding that he scours Craigslist and Facebook every day in search of housing, but has so far come up empty handed. "Every time I speak with someone who put an ad on Craigslist or something, they tell me they've gotten 80 emails (of interest) or even more."

Maetzic, who's been staying in hostels since his arrival, said he will likely return to Germany if he doesn't find housing by the end of the month.

According to WHA's most recent Employer Needs Assessment, which tracked employee and housing data over the 2012/13-winter season, 80 per cent of Whistler's workforce resided in the community, exceeding the municipality's goal of housing three quarters of the workforce within the resort.

Approximately 13 per cent of resort businesses provided housing for their employees last winter, a two per cent drop from the previous year. This reflected a total of around 2,000 beds, 1,300 of which were reserved for seasonal staff. Occupancy rates for seasonal staff beds averaged 92 per cent during this period.

One of the major accommodation providers for resort employees is Whistler Blackcomb, which has 1,040 staff beds this season, with approximately 1,000 currently filled, according to director of employee experience Joel Chevalier.

At the start of the season there was a waitlist for temporary and part-time employees to ensure all full-time staff had housing. Now that all full-time staff is housed, Chevalier said Whistler Blackcomb is going through its list of temporary and part-time workers to fill the remaining 40 beds, if needed.

"What we've found really interesting is a trend we didn't see right away; that there seems to be less supply in the village rental market," Chevalier said. "We didn't really notice that until this year, then we started looking at some of the WHA statistics that were supporting that."

Chevalier speculates that Whistler's workforce likely hasn't grown significantly this season, and didn't feel like that was a contributing factor to this winter's housing crunch, especially with the Rainbow and Cheakamus Crossing developments going online in recent years.

According to WHA statistics, the resort's workforce grew by two per cent last winter, but projected full-time equivalent employee totals for the 2013/14 season forecast a slight drop of 0.8 per cent.

More likely, according to Chevalier's anecdotal evidence, is that fewer Whistler homeowners are renting their spare rooms.

"My anecdotal chats with homeowners on the gondolas and chairlifts is that they're repatriating their suites back into their homes or not renting them out," he said. "It's got (Whistler Blackcomb) asking the question of what's going to happen next year? If the repatriation of suites does turn into a true reality, then what options do employers have in town to ensure there are enough beds for the workforce to put their heads on?"