Housing crisis conundrum 

Business, community leaders trying to house couch surfing seasonal employees

By Vivian Moreau

Whistler Housing Authority, business owners, and the Chamber of Commerce are teaming up to find solutions to Whistler’s seasonal worker housing conundrum.

Concerned business and community leaders who banded together last fall to find emergency accommodation for job-seeking workers after the 137-bed Shoestring Lodge closed down, have come together again under the chamber’s auspices to find short-term affordable housing for Whistler’s workers that show up each fall and leave in the spring. An estimated 200 workers from Whistler’s pool of 3,500 seasonal workers don’t have a stable place to live this winter and are instead sleeping on friends’ couches or in cars.

Councillor Gord McKeever, also Whistler Housing Authority’s chair, said the concerned group of business and community owners, the HOME project, are examining long-term solutions to the problem, like constructing an apartment building, but also looking at short-term answers like offering guarantees to homeowners reluctant to rent out vacant suites.

Those guarantees could mean the Whistler Housing Authority acting as regulator for homeowners and tenants and bringing business owners onside with damage deposits and making sure young staff don’t get out of hand.

“The onus would fall on the business owner because they have the clout of employment and can threaten termination (if tenants are unruly).”

Youth worker Greg McDonnell said many couch surfing seasonal workers initially say their temporary digs are not a problem, “but you get talking to them and (they admit) $500 a month to sleep on the couch is a bit much.”

McKeever said sending workers off to Pemberton or Squamish to find housing is not a solution — that a vibrant community needs its workers nearby.

“If a visitor comes to Whistler and says ‘so what’s the skiing like?’ and that worker goes ‘I don’t know I can’t afford to ski, I don’t live here, I just work here and drive an hour to go home’ you diminish your experience right there,” McKeever said.

The 15-member HOME project met with the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to draft a plan to be presented to the Whistler Housing Authority Wednesday that looks toward convincing cautious homeowners to rent out suites that may be sitting idle. Homeowners and business owners would be approached in the summer to take part in the project that would be put into place for next fall.

Landlord Ian Ritz, who recently received over 70 phone calls for two rooms he had available in his four-bedroom house in Alpine Meadows, said he’d be interested in the idea.

“I’m not well-practiced in being a landlord,” Ritz said. “Being a landlord is definitely a job, not a full-time job, but it takes work,” adding that he’d be interested in a plan that would take away some of the worry and free up his time.

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