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Housing remains top council priority as workforce grows

Whistler's workforce reached record levels last year—while 900 positions went unfilled
ZONING IN A zoning amendment bylaw for a new Whistler Housing Authority building in Cheakamus Crossing (next to a building opened on Cloudburst Drive last year) received first readings at the Dec. 4 council meeting. Housing will be a hot topic at council's first retreat on Dec. 12 and 13. PHOTO By Braden Dupuis

Whistler continued to meet its goal of housing 75 per cent of its workforce locally in the 2017-18 winter season, but the need for employee housing is not getting any less drastic.

While Whistler's workforce was bigger than ever before this year, at 16,300 full-time-equivalent employees (FTEs), 42 per cent of businesses reported being short staffed—to the tune of 900 unfilled positions.

What do these numbers say to Mayor Jack Crompton?

"That we need to stay the course on housing, and we need to be aggressive in our efforts to deliver housing for Whistler," Crompton said after the Dec. 4 council meeting.

The numbers come from the Whistler Housing Authority's (WHA) annual Employer Housing Needs Assessment, presented to council at the meeting.

"This past winter, 81 per cent of Whistler's overall workforce—or 13,100 FTEs—lived in Whistler, which is an increase from 78 per cent last year, and 83 per cent of our seasonal workforce lived in Whistler," said WHA general manager Marla Zucht in presenting the survey to council.

"But it is important to note that the increase in FTEs is less a result of additional workers living here and is actually more related to the changing mix of seasonal and year-round jobs."

Whistler's total workforce is calculated by adding the number of full-time positions to the number of FTE positions (found by taking the number of part-time jobs, multiplying it by the average number of part-time hours worked in a week, and dividing it by 40).

In 2018, Whistler had about 13,500 full-time employees and 2,800 FTEs.

While Whistler's 2018 FTE workforce of 16,300 was the highest on record (up from 15,800 last year), the number alone doesn't tell the whole story, as the increase is primarily due to more FTE seasonal jobs, Zucht said.

"This was the first year since 2011 that we've actually seen a decrease in the number of full-time positions coupled with an increase in part-time FTEs," she said.

And local businesses aren't expecting the growth to level off next year, either.

Early projections have the 2018-19 workforce growing another 2.4 per cent, for a total of 16,700 FTEs.

There is some slight relief on the way in the form of three new WHA builds, and the issue will be at the forefront of council's first strategic planning retreat on Dec. 12 and 13.

"I think our primary challenge is the growth in FTEs ... our businesses are growing, and so we require more people to staff them," Crompton said. "Housing is our primary response, and we're pushing hard."

On that front, council also gave first readings to a zoning amendment bylaw that will move forward a new WHA build at 1330 Cloudburst Dr. in Cheakamus Crossing at the Dec. 4 meeting (a public hearing will follow).

The building will house 103 employee beds in 45 units, and is expected to be open in 2020.

Two other builds—1020 Legacy Way (53 beds, 24 units) and 8350 Bear Paw Trail (39 beds, 20 units)—will be ready in summer 2019.

With one new WHA build in Cheakamus opened last winter and two more on the way, Councillor Cathy Jewett urged for consideration of more services for the burgeoning neighbourhood.

"This is our biggest resident-housing neighbourhood, so I hope that we can do something to make this more user-friendly, if you will," she said.

Jewett also raised the issue of housing essential services like police, doctors, teachers and childcare operators during the meeting.

"It would be really great to get some information from these essential services to add to our statistics so that we know who those people are, how many units they might need, and what they have in place already," she said.

Any businesses that have a licence with the RMOW would have received the survey, Zucht noted.

"We are in frequent contact with some of those essential service providers, but (we could reach out) just to find out more directly from them what their housing needs are, and projected growth," she said.

Crompton said he sees the problem as one needing a regional approach, and noted after the meeting that Coun. Jen Ford—assigned to the social services and regional cooperation portfolio after the Oct. 20 election—has been speaking with a lot of local essential service providers already.

"A lot of them are not people necessarily looking for the kind of rental housing that we might be delivering, and so supporting their delivery of service, and understanding how the RMOW can best support social services in this community is critical," Crompton said. "And I would say our commitment to housing is really the vanguard to addressing the challenges that social services have in the community."

Find the full Employer Housing Needs Assessment Survey in the Dec. 4 council package starting on page 17: