Housing, affordable and attainable that is, has been the single biggest issue in Whistler for as long as I can remember. In fact, when I moved here in 1988, I was told to come in early fall to try and secure a place. So I did, to no avail, and I flew back east dejected. Determined, I ended up driving an RV out in the depths of winter and parking it at the KOA campground (now Spruce Grove).
In retrospect, things were much less dire back then. There were at least some options. Ski bums could find a room or couch-surf the many ski chalets that have since all been replaced with huge luxury homes that rarely get rented or even occupied. Many resourceful folks built squats in the woods, and, believe it or not, there was even a tent encampment at Edgewood where the biggest, most expensive monstrosity in history is continually being built.
Higher interest rates, mortgages, strata fees and insurance are usually to blame. But I blame supply and demand, and of course greed. The only rental ad in the paper now is a five-bedroom in Emerald for... wait... $12,500 per month! For a family only, of course; no skid-ball workers, partiers and skiers. Who are these people and who are their prospective tenants? Anyone who could afford that rent should already be mortgaging their own home.
This has been going on for so long, I am now convinced the powers-that-be are more interested in capitalizing with the status-quo than thinking out of the box and coming up with solutions. Squamish is building high-density housing like crazy, and Pemberton has some, too. Why not here? Let’s face it: without the Olympics, Whistler’s only recent major, large-scale development, at Cheakamus, wouldn’t even exist.
Of course, a shortage of housing directly translates to a shortage of workers and a degradation in the quality of service that has been a hallmark of Whistler’s experience. Employees often need multiple jobs to survive the high cost of everything, contributing to a grumpy, overworked, short-staffed workforce. Many established, long-term locals have even cashed out and left, being replaced by someone who is wealthy enough to buy their house. Rich enough not to need the hassle of renting out their basement suite.
The demographic has also changed drastically. Free spirited, transient ski bums have been replaced by entitled privileged kids whose parents help pay for their Airbnbs. Don’t even get me started on the loss of housing from short-term rental sites.
I’m sick of the studies, committees, lip-service and excuses. Housing can be built almost anywhere there’s land in short order. It happens all over the country in mining camps that are often in inaccessible, harsh regions. If the resource sector can figure it out, how come the tourism sector can’t? I see high-end hotels looking for staff housing where rent, insurance and maintenance is guaranteed. Why can’t they just designate a wing of their hotel for their workers? The easy commute would get them to work on time.
There are several reasons for the lack of progress on this most important issue... pretentiousness, elitism, capitalism, NIMBYs, but mostly... greed. I believe the corporate entities and governments that support the current system would rather continue to milk a dying cow than solve the problem. If the rules were relaxed to allow for social housing, work camps or tiny homes, those in cahoots with the policymakers have so much to lose. Think about permits, inspectors, real estate agents, their advertisers (and Pique), property tax, strata fees, property management companies, transfer tax, insurance companies, banks, architects, engineers, consultants, tradesmen, contractors, and of course the very politicians that could actually make changes. They all have something to lose: lucrative business and money.
The yearly property taxes on the recent $40-million, record-breaking house sale are a whopping $95,000! That could go towards housing (three container homes) but instead it barely covers most bureaucrats’ yearly salary.
Until we see a major paradigm shift, things will stay the same. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The result we are seeing not only in Whistler but almost every community in North America is a worsening housing crisis and systemic inequality, resulting in very visible poverty and homelessness. How long can society keep riding the gravy train without looking out the window at what has become an apparent nightmare? Do something different now!