Housing woes continue to nip at leaders 

WHA survey shows businesses upset with situation

By Vivian Moreau

It doesn’t surprise Ken Melamed that 43 per cent of local business owners are dissatisfied with the area’s housing situation. But that so many look to the municipality to find beds for staff not only surprises, but irks Whistler’s mayor.

Responding to Whistler Housing Authority’s recent survey findings, presented by president Marla Zucht at Monday’s council meeting, of 613 businesses that assessed labour and housing needs and found the resort lacking in both counts, the mayor was quick to respond.

“I wonder if they assume it’s our job to provide housing for employees?” Melamed asked. “Do they expect us to take money out of their property taxes (to do so)? There seems to be a disconnect here.”

Conducted last summer for the housing authority by Vancouver-based InterVistas, the survey polled local businesses about staffing needs, wages and housing requirements. And while survey results point to some continuing positive trends, such as 79 per cent of Whistler’s 13,700 employees live within municipal boundaries and 75 per cent earn more than $12 net per hour, 30 per cent of employers didn’t have enough staff to make it through the 2005-06 winter season, a 20 per cent increase over the previous year. Larger businesses found it more difficult than smaller to fill staffing needs.

Worker shortage and lack of skills were cited as most common reasons for the shortage, as well as lack of available housing to attract new staff, the report found.

And although 67 per cent of those polled said it is important for employees to live in Whistler the online survey conducted from July to September last year found only one in five Whistler businesses provided housing for their employees, an increase over 2004-05 (17 per cent) but a decrease from 2003-04 (24 per cent). Reasons for not providing housing included economic feasibility, lack of supply, and a contention that it wasn’t needed due to the nature or size of businesses.

But the fact that almost half of respondents are unhappy with housing availability and affordability provoked quick reaction not only from the mayor but from Councillor and housing authority chair Gord McKeever.

“Every employee-restricted bed in town has a trickle down effect, to even the rented studio suite,” McKeever said. Admitting no new construction has occurred in four years, he noted there are over 2,000 beds in the works including the Rainbow project and the athletes’ village.

Melamed added that the municipality had never said it would be responsible for finding room for everyone that comes to town.

“We never committed to 100 per cent,” he said. “We committed to 75 per cent.”

Housing affordability is still an issue, he acknowledged. “We build at zero cost, but we don’t have the dollars to subsidize further.”

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