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With Shoestring gone, where ya gonna stay?

Employers ponder short-term housing drought



By Vivian Moreau

Lower hotel rates, residents offering up spare beds or trailers in Function Junction. They’re just some of the ideas local employers may have to consider in making space for this fall’s influx of seasonal employees who need cheap digs while looking for work.

Tom Horler, owner of the Whistler and Pemberton McDonald’s restaurants, is worried prospective seasonal employees coming to Whistler this fall will have no place to stay while looking for work. The closure of the Shoestring Lodge this spring means there are 116 fewer inexpensive beds available in the valley.

“This is a crisis that’s staring us in the face,” Horler said.

Other than the 34-bed international hostel on the west side of Alta Lake there are now few affordable options. Horler said that about 70 per cent of McDonald’s applicants used to stay at the Shoestring Lodge. He’s concerned that with lots of job opportunities in towns with affordable rooms, this fall Whistler may not be able to attract the seasonal employees it needs.

“Where are they going to stay?” he said. “Not in the Pan Pacific, although it’s a lovely hotel.”

Horler is heading a committee to come up with solutions to the temporary housing gap. He is asking all interested employers to attend the Aug. 1 meeting, to be held 5-6:30 p.m. in the Whistler Chamber of Commerce boardroom.

“The more people who can wrap their heads around this problem, the better,” he said.

A core group of six has met once and the idea of local hotels blocking off a group of rooms at substantially reduced rates for potential staff has been suggested. As has installing temporary trailers in Function Junction and asking residents to open up their homes.

“But the muni would have to look at bending rules because that becomes nightly rental and not allowed,” Horler said.

Whistler Community Services Society’s executive director says during shoulder season it’s a reasonable idea that hotels relax rates for potential workers.

“Tourists aren’t here in droves yet so maybe the hotels could help out,” Janet McDonald said.

The society provides interim housing to people who have exhausted all financial resources, not to those newly arrived who can afford some kind of accommodation, McDonald said. But she noted the closure of the Shoestring has affected their ability to help people.

“We’re sad to see the Shoestring go because we have referred a number of our clients there and they’ve been very good at accommodating us,” she said.

Those looking for work have the option of staying in Whistler-Blackcomb staff housing for two-three weeks and staying on if they acquire work with the corporation. If they don’t, they’re given one month to find alternative accommodation. But even though they have 1,200 beds available for employees, Whistler-Blackcomb’s Kirby Brown says the area needs more hostels.

“Although hotel rates are becoming more reasonable there is still a large market of young traveling Canadians and international youth for who anything more than $20 a night is unaffordable for them.”

Brown, director of employee experience, contends that although the backpacking travelers may not contribute as much as wealthier travelers they still should be given consideration.

“They’re still eating, buying souvenirs and taking part in activities in town,” he said. “It’s still an experience that we want to be able to provide people.”

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