Locals being pushed out as housing crunch tightens 

'It's really sad when you can't even stay in your own hometown'

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO BY DAVID MCCOLM - under pressure The new trend for property owners to rent their suites through Airbnb has dire effects on locals who are being evicted.
  • file photo by david mccolm
  • under pressure The new trend for property owners to rent their suites through Airbnb has dire effects on locals who are being evicted.

One week Ranya Dube was spearheading a new initiative to help Whistler's bears, the next she was facing the sober reality that she may have to leave town.

Dube's landlord recently served Dube and her husband an eviction notice, telling them he would be moving into their suite.

Shortly afterwards, however, the upstairs unit of the house appeared on short-term, online rental site airbnb.com, Dube said.

"I totally understand if people prefer renting, having that situation going on for themselves, but there's still the problem that there's no housing in town," Dube said.

"(Whistler) is going to become like Jackson Hole, with workers that drive from Vancouver... We're in the process of losing our culture, basically."

Stories like Dube's are becoming increasingly common in Whistler, said Coun. Jen Ford, who also sits on the board of directors at the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA).

"A friend of mine who was literally born here, has lived here her entire life and her family is here: she and her family, they can't find a place to live," Ford said.

"It's sad no matter who it is, but it's really sad when you can't even stay in your own hometown."

Families, individuals, businesses, daycares — it seems everyone is feeling the pressure right now, Ford said.

"We lost an amazing social-services worker, mental-health worker — a trained individual who was so desperately needed in this community," she said.

"He and his family couldn't find a place to live, and so they've had to move back to Vancouver."

There are about 500 people on WHA's rental waitlist at the moment, and 500 more on the waitlist to buy.

Though the WHA has a new resident-restricted building in the works for Cheakamus Crossing, the current housing crunch — impacted by nightly rentals and homeowners selling their homes — is not likely to get better before the winter season.

"Nothing we can do will make it easy right now, and that's the sad reality," Ford said.

The problem is not contained to Whistler, either.

Geoff Barnett and his wife have been looking for a place to rent in Pemberton to no avail.

"We've been looking for about three months now and there's just absolutely nothing to rent in Pemberton, and then you jump on Airbnb and there's just tons of places to rent," Barnett said.

"It's super frustrating... I've been in Whistler for 16 years now, and this would be my first move out to Pemberton, and I remember back in the day it used to be fine. There were lots of places, but now there's just nothing, and yeah, it's tough."

Barnett's wife recently landed a job in Pemberton that requires them to live there. The couple plans to buy in the community in the next six months or so, but needs something immediately.

"I don't know what the answer is, but I know that they're going to have to find some way to combat this Airbnb and short-term rentals," he said.

Coun. Jack Crompton — who also sits on the WHA board — took to Facebook on Sept. 1 to float an appeal to the community.

"If you have a suite that is empty please consider renting it. If you are Airbnb-ing please consider longer-term rentals. Whistler needs rental housing now... every bit helps," Crompton wrote.

The post garnered dozens of comments and some healthy discussion about the issue.

"Lots of great feedback," Crompton said afterwards. "I think that we have a community with a lot of really intelligent people, and I think that it's important that we take the time to talk about exactly what the problem is and how we can address it, and yeah there's been a lot of great ideas getting thrown around."

That being said, the problem isn't one that will be tackled easily.

"I think we've shown that we can be successful in addressing housing for employees, and I think we need to continue to invest in big ideas like the WHA, but there is no silver bullet," Crompton said.

"It's a complicated problem that requires a multi-faceted solution. I think we want to encourage businesses to invest in employee housing and better wages for their staff. We want to inspire local homeowners to rent longer term and take their properties off of Airbnb and make them available to local employees."

Solving the Airbnb issue would likely go a long way to improving the situation.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is in the early stages of a Tourist Accommodation Review, which includes researching customer expectations and online booking trends, as well as an inventory of Whistler's existing tourist accommodation properties, policies, regulations and uses.

One of the stated objectives of the review is to prohibit nightly rentals in residential areas.

The review is still in the first of four stages, with implementation scheduled for August 2017 and beyond.

More information and updates can be found at www.whistler.ca/business/current-projects/tourist-accommodation-review.

Suspected illegal nightly rentals can be reported to RMOW bylaw services at 604-935-8280 or bylawservices@whistler.ca.

When a complaint is filed, a letter is issued to owners with a 30-day deadline for compliance. Following that, another registered letter is sent with another 30-day window for compliance.

If the owner still doesn't comply, bylaw services can prepare a Property Use Action Report with recommended actions for council to pursue.

"In addition, Whistler's Municipal Ticket Information system includes a fine of $1,000, which can be imposed for use contrary to zoning at any time," an RMOW spokesperson said in an email.

"Property owners and people booking accommodation are encouraged to check the regulations pertaining to properties for rent in the Temporary Tourist Accommodation Regulations section of whistler.ca."

Residents who feel they have been wrongly evicted should contact the BC Residential Tenancy Branch at 1-800-665-8779.

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