housing update 

By Loreth Beswetherick Whistler-Blackcomb has promised to have all its full-time employees housed by Dec. 20 but part-timers are still being left to scramble on their own to get a roof over their heads for the peak Christmas and New Year’s period. Kirby Brown, director of employee experience for Whistler-Blackcomb, said the 250 employees waitlisted for housing are all being accommodated by increasing the density in staff housing. He said the mountains have also been able to rent an additional three houses, which equates to about 20 beds. The mountains now rent a total of 50 homes but are still looking for more. More than 200 staff have been squashed into staff housing and Brown said the other 50 will be moved in by Dec. 20. A third of the homeless staff were accommodated by doubling up with other employees who volunteered to share rooms and take a cut in rent payments. The rest had to go into a lottery. The mountains are housing just over 1,325 staff this year compared to 1,055 last season. "All our full-time employees will be taken care of by Christmas but there are still part-time employees out there," said Brown. "It’s not an ideal situation and we are doing everything possible. We are still actively seeking additional valley accommodation." Brown said if there is any message he would like to get out, it’s that the mountains are still renting. "Our aim is to get that density in staff housing back down to where it was and move those 200 people out into valley accommodations." Both the mountains and the Whistler Housing Authority anticipate, however, that the current housing squeeze is short-term and will ease up after Jan. 1 when valley rentals are once again freed up after being held back for the millennium period. "Certainly our sense is we are getting a handle on the long-term accommodation situation," said the authority’s Tim Wake. He said the authority may now have to take a harder look at the short-term sector but the real test will be come in the new year. "If we have a huge shortage in January then we know have a problem." Part of the immediate problem, said Wake, is a perceived one. He noted people don’t need employment to get accommodation (unless they go through the housing authority) and many may stay in town to party over the peak period and then will leave if they don’t find work. He said it is difficult to get an accurate read on the situation. In the meantime, the housing authority is getting some calls from people willing to rent homes to employees but they are for a few weeks here and there. Wake said people are still showing up at the authority’s doors looking for accommodation but it is more the recent arrivals. He said, as a last resort, some are being pointed in the direction of Pemberton or even Squamish where there is ample rental accommodation on the market and a steady stream of employees who already commute to Whistler and may be able to double up on transport. Wake said the authority is also exploring the possibility of bus service to Pemberton. He said this is a band-aid solution and not ideal. "We want to build a sense of community in Whistler." The situation was exacerbated when 16 units, which would have housed about 35 residents were destroyed in the recent Nesters Hill fire. Most of that accommodation was tagged for long-term rentals but Wake pointed out the long-term situation is interconnected with the short-term one. He said many employees who were ready to move into Nesters Hill units are currently housed but not happy with their accommodation. Move them out into more suitable premises and that, in turn, frees up valley rentals for seasonal employees. Wake said a few people had counted on moving into Nesters Hill next month. They have now been left homeless but the authority is pulling out all stops to find accommodation for them.

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