Eight years with the British Columbia Housing Management Commission taught Rick Staehli that "we’re only as good as our neighbours."
As the new general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority one of Staehli’s jobs will be to convince Whistlerites of the same thing.
"‘They’ are us," Staehli says of the full-time Whistler residents who need employee housing.
"How do you know your neighbour if you don’t meet them?" Staehli asks.
Staehli took over the job as general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority this week from interim general manager Steve Bayly. Staehli brings 25 years of experience in the construction and development industry, including eight years with the province’s Housing Management Commission, as director of development and technical services. His responsibilities there included the development and delivery of housing programs funded by the provincial and federal governments, as well as the provision of technical, mechanical and engineering services to the commission.
"We built over 2,000 units a year, for families, seniors and people that no one else would house," Staehli says. The commission built projects in communities across B.C., including the Lions’ seniors housing project in Pemberton.
Pemberton is also where Staehli lives, on the cattle ranch his parents bought 41 years ago.
"We tried to integrate projects into neighbourhoods," Staehli says of his work with the provincial Housing Management Commission, and that’s the approach he feels should be followed with employee housing in Whistler.
"We don’t want to dominate neighbourhoods, we want to assimilate, and you do that through building design, addressing management issues with neighbours, educating neighbourhoods and introducing people to one another.
"We have to create an opportunity for people who weren’t here early enough to be able to afford to buy here," Staehli says. "Done properly it can be an asset to a neighbourhood."
Staehli says the argument that social housing devalues surrounding property is "a total crock." The provincial Housing Management Commission couldn’t find one instance in all of North America where that was proven.
"What devalues property is (inappropriate) density. With the B.C. program we made a decision to never dominate an area," Staehli says.
"It’s a matter of education and working with, rather than working against."
Part of the education process is letting people know who the occupants of employee housing are. Staehli doesn’t see the housing authority’s job as housing transient works, but rather "the people who live here, who want a stake in the community and want to get involved in the community." Providing a supply of housing for those people is one of the cornerstones of building a community.
"Without a good source of housing we can’t mature beyond a resort municipality," Staehli says.
The housing authority is undertaking an education strategy to show people who the residents of employee housing are and to document where current employee housing exists — because some projects have integrated so successfully into neighbourhoods, people don’t know they are there. The strategy includes producing a video to put faces to some of the anonymous "employees" who occupy employee housing projects.