For local business owner Tina Pashumati James, the Whistler housing crisis is personal, for it was not long ago when she had to live out of her vehicle while running a business in town.
“During my time in Whistler, I have been homeless twice and have slept in my car while also running a successful business,” James said. “We must prioritize solving the housing crisis and supporting local businesses who cannot get staff because there is no housing.”
Now, James hopes to be part of the solution by running for a council seat in the Oct. 15 municipal election.
The local entrepreneur and yoga teacher said she was inspired to run for office after seeing the effect the housing crisis is having on mental health and business viability.
"This whole problem is all tied up with mental health, so it has inspired me. I can't stand by and watch anymore. I really can't, because there are a lot of young people suffering in our town," she said.
"I want to stand up for the young people I see suffering greatly. You can live in paradise, but for some people, it can be like hell."
James, 60, has lived in Whistler for 19 years. She previously worked as a ski patroller for Whistler Blackcomb, and currently runs her own small business, Loka Yoga.
James' platform is focused on affordable housing, the environment and First Nations reconciliation.
Policy-wise, James would like to see a space in Whistler or the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) created for people living in their vehicles that will provide them with access to washroom facilities and clean water or space for the creation of tiny homes.
"There must be somewhere that we could implement a place where people in RV's, instead of them driving from place to place feeling very unsafe, a place where Whistler could keep an eye on it," she said. "I think that would be a brilliant short-term solution, which could help in winter immensely."
James would also like to see the number of short-term nightly rentals in the municipality restricted, as she believes they are contributing to the lack of long-term rentals in the municipality.
"If they're allowing Airbnbs, that's taking away housing, because that means the landlord will be getting $200 a night for the Airbnbs, which means people who want to live here permanently, our workforce isn't going to have anywhere to live," she said.
"We can't get any workforce. We have nowhere to put them, because all the Airbnbs now have tourists who are not our workforce."
James believes Whistler's housing situation is unsustainable, and that the municipality needs to look at new ideas to solve the housing crisis.
"It's not just getting more housing, because the Whistler Housing Authority is trying to do the best they can, but I think we have to figure out ways to house people, so they are not living in chicken coops,” she said.
"When people are asking $5,000 for a house that they're going to be chucked out of in a year, it's not a solution. I think the government needs to sit down and discuss how they can create affordable housing for the workforce ... We need to set up a system and work together to try and create a way for our workforce to be able to stay here; otherwise, we're not going to have a workforce."
In addition to housing, James would like the municipality to engage in more consultation with the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations, as she believes the municipality needs to do more to advance reconciliation.
“I think we must all sit together rather than hide problems. We could work together and be the first ski resort to create something good for mental health, reconciliation, the environment, the trees, the bears, and housing. That's what I believe.”
The nomination period runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 9, with the official campaign period taking place between Sept. 17 and Oct. 15.