The Whistler housing crisis means something different to everyone. A lot of people roll their eyes and grin with amusement: “Housing has always been a problem in Whistler.” “Whistler doesn’t owe anybody a home.” “It’s a problem everywhere.”
If a problem doesn’t affect you, why bother trying to solve it?
When I arrived in Whistler in 2015 to start the region’s only after-hours veterinary emergency clinic, renters could still find a place to live. Now, it’s actually impossible for the average worker to find affordable rental housing. A one-bedroom suite with a six-month lease: $3,000-plus/ month (an entire month’s wage of your Whistler workforce) with 100 applicants in line. When the lease ends in six months, the search will be even worse than it was before. The rental inventory has evaporated in the last few years, with renters being displaced when the unit is either sold from beneath them or converted to Airbnb. The “sizzling hot real estate market” has scorched Whistler’s rental inventory to the bare ground.
At one point, I had an amazing team. My right hand and left hand were qualified and highly skilled emergency workers, and they were in turn supported by qualified support staff. Above all, they were all truly beautiful people—like angels. I watched helplessly as they were displaced from one rental suite to another, as they worked three jobs and still struggled to survive. I watched as they were displaced from Whistler housing a final time, unable to find a rental suite. One of them was left with no option other than essentially squatting in the cold, dark, concrete basement of a local golf course (one of her other jobs); one was left with no option other than to move into a van. They loved Whistler but couldn’t keep hanging on, and they eventually left for good. I watched as these amazing, kind, highly- skilled, and desperately-needed professionals were pushed out of Whistler, leaving us with no qualified emergency workers, yet unable to hire replacements because there is nowhere for them to live.
If you went to a hockey game, and only one player stepped onto the ice, everyone would ask “where is the team?” Emergency care, like many essential services, requires a team. Imagine an ER doctor being forced to use weekenders, tourists and high-school students as stand-ins in the emergency room—for surgery, anesthesia, CPR. Imagine the stress of trying to do both the nurses’ and doctor’s jobs at the same time, the stress of having my patients die when I know I could have saved them... if only I had my right hand. In a town that swarms with furkids, now there is no emergency vet in the Sea to Sky. The innocent ones are being punished, suffering on the drive to Vancouver.
All the while, folks chuckle the old narrative “Whistler doesn’t owe you a home,” their favourite inside joke, on repeat like a broken record. This is not a joke. How can you feel entitled to use the community’s services— the grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and medical services, without also understanding that the people providing those services must have a roof over their heads?
Our town’s staffing crisis and homelessness problems are really just policy choices, a direct reflection of decades of downplaying, sweeping under the rug and inadequate oversight. Just as easily as those choices have created our current situation, we can choose something different—swift and emergent action, priorities, planning, a new narrative. The SS Whistler has grown from a tiny ship into a titanic cruiseliner—it’s more than a gift shop and concession stand that can be staffed by Temporary Foreign Workers. To care for the needs of 3 million passengers, an enormous permanent team is required, but you can’t boot the crew out of their cabins and expect them to sleep in the ocean at night. Every Whistler worker—every carpenter, every bus driver, every artist, every yoga instructor and dishwasher—every person in our community needs a place to sleep.
The housing problem may not affect you, but it actually does affect you.