"Decades of following laissez-faire housing policies are catching up with Vail as about 2,500 jobs may go begging this winter." – New York Times, Nov. 5, 1998 The Whistler Housing Authority celebrated its first year in business last week. It’s actually been about 15 months since the WHA came into being, but with all the logistical headaches of establishing a new office it seemed more appropriate to mark the anniversary in December, when some of the accomplishments of the past year could be realized. Among those accomplishments was the opening of the housing project in Nordic Estates, which as of this month is home to more than 30 long-term residents. The establishment of priority lists for housing, based primarily on length of residence in Whistler, is another accomplishment. The lottery system is no longer used to determine who gets first crack at new employee housing projects, or second crack when employee units come up for re-sale or rent. The lottery system was just that, a lottery, which in some cases determined whether people stayed in Whistler or moved on to other towns offering better opportunities. There is a long way for the WHA to go. There will be additional employee housing projects brought before council in the new year, which will likely be met with the same opposition the 19 Mile Creek project and previous employee housing projects have faced. Perhaps some more members of the business community will step forward to support these projects. If they need an example of why they should support employee housing they need only dig out the Nov. 5 New York Times. Under the headline "Cry of Wealthy in Vail: Not in Our Playground!" a story told of how in recent years trailer parks in the Vail area have been shut down and ordinances passed prohibiting homeowners from renting their driveways, two measures which have taken away housing for the many workers who lived in campers. And now there are not enough workers. "For years Vail could ignore rising housing prices, content to allow the portion of its work force who live locally to dwindle to 30 percent. With the median price of a condominium here approaching $300,000, a recent survey calculated that a worker would have to hold down five full-time jobs at $10 an hour to live here." Last summer there was concern among some Whistler homeowners and people with suites to rent that perhaps the WHA was moving too quickly, providing more housing than was required. Whistler-Blackcomb’s recent December advertising campaign, soliciting people with houses for rent to consider letting the mountains fill them with staff, suggest that is not the case. Gord Ahrens, Whistler-Blackcomb’s director of human resources, says they could make do without the additional housing, but after a couple of winters of squeezing extra bodies into their Nordic and Brio projects they’ve brought the density back to its intended level and would like to be able to offer staff a little choice and flexibility in who their roommates are and their type of living environment. "The housing authority and the municipality have taken us a long way in making it possible to attract quality employees," Ahrens says. In fact, the WHA is now being consulted by other resort towns on employee housing issues. All in all, not a bad record for the first year in operation.

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