Worst housing crisis in five years looming 

Businesses brainstorm on ways to solve the problem

The gravity of the seasonal housing crunch hit home hard Tuesday night as local businesses came together to find short-term solutions.

“This is the issue of our day,” said Councillor Ralph Forsyth, who kicked off the Chamber of Commerce forum with a brief presentation.

“I would describe it as a crisis looming on our horizon.”

His comment was backed up by statistical and anecdotal evidence from the 30 to 40 people attending the meeting.

Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) chair Gord McKeever showed a statistical analysis of classified ads from Pique Newsmagazine and The Question, which show the volume of ads in 2007 has declined to the “gloomy days of 2002 when we were in a bona fide housing crunch.”

While counting classifieds is not an exact science, the WHA tracks the numbers to follow trends. The numbers reveal some worrisome trends for the upcoming year.

In mid-September last year there were 234 ads in the papers. This year the number sits at 83. That’s close to the 2002 stat of 69.

“We don’t see it getting any easier for the next several winters,” said McKeever, adding that Whistler could be in an ever-worsening position between now and 2010.

More evidence came by way of managers of human resources in hotels who say the they are already hearing about housing woes from new or potential employees. This is weeks before the onslaught of workers head to the resort.

Jodi Annett from the Whistler Employment Resource Centre said the number one question from new job seekers at the centre is: who has accommodation to go with their jobs?

But businesses weren’t called together by the chamber to discuss the evidence of the problem, rather to find solutions to deal with it.

The chamber has been working on the issue for a year now. It developed the H.O.M.E. program to entice homeowners currently not renting their homes or suites to lease them to the chamber, who would in turn rent to employees. There has been little take up to date for the program.

Several suggestions, long bandied about by the community, were raised again at the meeting, such as creating a temporary “man-camp” on the driving range or allowing businesses to buy those units that aren’t selling to people on the WHA waitlist.

Tom Horler, who owns the local McDonald’s, asked why they couldn’t use the free land in the land bank (given to the municipality as part of 2010 negotiations) to build a seasonal apartment building.

Each suggestion had its challenges.

The land bank is in three parcels — beside the athletes’ village, above the new Rainbow subdivision and a small piece near Kadenwood. The municipality cannot build near the athletes’ village due to security concerns around the Games. The site above Rainbow is accessed through the Rainbow lands, which are still not in an active construction zone. And the Kadenwood parcel is still completely forested with no services.

Chris Quinlan, who owns Behind the Grind, pushed for more details on building a temporary “man-camp” on the driving range.

There has been some investigation into bringing temporary trailers or modular housing to Whistler but it takes more than a year to secure them.

As for businesses buying WHA units in existing projects, the model does not work.

“That is disruptive within a single project,” said Councillor Tim Wake, former general manager of the WHA.

Christine McLeod, of the Nita Lake Lodge, encouraged business owners to get as many ideas on paper as possible.

What about renting RV trailers from the Interior for six months, she suggested, or parking a small cruise ship in Squamish, much like the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games looked at doing to house the media.

Another suggestion from the crowd was to organize a shuttle service from Vancouver to bring workers to the resort daily.

Dave Davenport, chair of the chamber’s board, said it was up to businesses to step up to address the issue.

“We have to talk to the business community and we have to step up,” he said.

Business owners were encouraged to spread the word to other business owners. The chamber will be investigating all the ideas put forward at the meeting and may be presenting their findings to council on behalf of the business community.

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