Chamber businesses disappointed by council response to housing survey 

Business owners who participated in a chamber of commerce survey on employee housing are disappointed in municipal council’s reaction to their findings.

"It was a pretty clear indication that council just doesn’t understand what is going on here," said Gone Bakery and Soup Co. owner Bob Lorriman, who was at the council meeting earlier this month when the survey results were revealed.

The survey questioned 251 businesses with 10 employees or more to see if they were interested in seasonal housing.

There were 176 responses. Of those 77 businesses indicated they were interested in employee housing, requesting 343 bedrooms to house 686 employees.

Ninety-nine businesses said they didn’t need employee housing at the time of the survey. Lorriman pointed out that most of those who said they didn’t need employee housing already had accommodation in place at the time of the survey.

It wasn’t that the 99 businesses weren’t interested, said Lorriman it was more a reflection of the fact that they were set for the season at that point.

"The survey was supposed to be an accurate snapshot at the time it was taken and that is what it was," said Lorriman.

But councillor Ted Milner pointed out the survey showed that only 40 per cent of businesses that responded wanted employee housing.

"These are your employees, the municipality has stepped up and created housing," Milner said.

And he added that it really wasn’t up to the municipality to provide more employee housing.

"After that council meeting there is nothing businesses can do except try to keep in front of council so that next time a project comes along council will recognize there is a need for something like this," said Lorriman.

There are varying needs for employee housing, ranging from long-term to seasonal. And each business has unique needs in differing circumstances.

Lorriman rents houses under long-term leases at market value and then turns around and rents them to his employees.

It would have been ideal for him to be able to get housing for his employees at an affordable rent under covenant from the developer and pass those savings onto his employees.

"As business owners we appreciate that employees have to enjoy themselves in order to provide better service, and if every penny they are making is going out the door because rents are so high then it doesn’t provide for a healthy environment," said Lorriman.

"We have got to keep this in front of council’s face because maybe at some point they will understand this.

"There is a need for seasonal housing and that is the engine that drives this business that we are in."

Part of the reason for council’s luke-warm reception, said chamber of commerce board member and owner of the Upper Village Market Tanya Ewasiuk, may be the failure of municipal council to understand the vital role the chamber plays in the community.

"Actually, it is felt by the chamber board that council doesn’t understand the great role of the chamber of commerce in the community," said Ewasiuk who presented the survey to council.

"We feel that because they are not valuing our position in the community they are also not valuing our input.

"There is a real feeling from the chamber board that council isn’t understanding that the need is still great, and it is there, and it is something we need to keep working on."

Ewasiuk said the last time the chamber made a presentation to council about the issue, last May, it was clear that the council felt businesses should be more pro-active.

"We felt that by doing the survey and getting the results to council that was proactive and saying, ‘yes indeed we are committed to this,’" she said.

"We are committed to making sure that council is aware that there is a great need for short-term employee housing."

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