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Rental market continues to tighten

Survey: 45 per cent of seasonal workers cite housing as their biggest challenge

It’s two years to go to the Olympics, and the rental market in Whistler is showing it.

Fewer places are available compared to last year and already high rents are continuing to increase. But according to Marla Zucht, general manager for the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), the housing crunch is not a surprise.

“We expected it would be slightly softer, and slightly tighter this year,” said Zucht.

“And we are anticipating for (next year) there will be even less available certainly for the private rentals.”

In 2007, 69 rental units were listed for rent in Pique Newsmagazine and The Question for the first three weeks of February. This number dropped to 47 units this year.

Rents have also increased. The median rent for a one-bedroom place in February 2007 was $1,125 compared to $1,138 in February 2008. Three-bedroom homes, which averaged at $2,500 last year, rose slightly to $2,525 this year. And a typical single family home rented for about $3,100 last year compared to $3,200 this year.

However rents for two-bedroom places have not increased from last year, with places going for an average of $1,600 both years.

And Zucht said rents are predicted to continue to climb up from now until 2010.

“I think we’ll see a noticeable jump up in rents — maybe not next winter, but certainly the following winter,” said Zucht.

“What we are hearing is people are getting rentals through to the fall of 2009, but then that last winter is going to be really, really tight.”

Louise Lundy, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, agreed that this trend of fewer places and increasing rents will continue.

“There is no question that what we are seeing is a much tighter market and we do expect that for the next year,” said Lundy.

“Even this summer, it’ll be really interesting to see what the vacancy rates do, because we really expect that there are going to be a lot more people who are going to stick around.”

A survey conducted by the chamber earlier this month on their Spirit Pass members showed that 45 per cent of respondents said finding a place to live in was their biggest challenge since arriving in Whistler.

Moreover, 25 per cent of respondents pay 40 per cent of their net income to rent and 18 per cent pay more than half of their net income to rent. Financial planners recommend you never spend more than a third of your net income on rent.

Lundy said the Chamber has also noticed that employers are more on the hook to provide housing than before. For example, at the WERC job fair in November, employers who offered housing were more successful hiring workers than those that did not.

As a result of the anticipated housing crunch leading up to the Olympics, the Chamber has teamed up with the Whistler Housing Authority and two council members to form the H.O.M.E. committee, a task force dedicated to finding a housing solution for seasonal workers.

“The reason that we are trying to find some possible solutions is that we recognize that it is going to be a very, very tight housing market especially in the employee affordability category,” said Lundy.

“We want to find a possible solution for employers, so I think we are just going to keep try to pull together all the pieces and see if we can’t make something happen.”

The H.O.M.E. committee is currently working on plans to bring in temporary modular homes to Whistler to house workers between now and the Olympics. The proposal faces some hurdles, including problems securing a site, although a plot of land across from Mons road is being considered.  

Lundy added that the committee is still looking at other sites for the proposed development, although she was not able to specify where.