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Have Allen key, will build home

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The provincial government’s announcement two weeks ago that it was buying 11 residential hotels in Vancouver and Victoria was welcome news to housing advocates as well as to the premier’s former cabinet secretary who authored a recent study calling for 500 more Vancouver single-occupancy rooms.

Ken Dobell said he had been unaware of the provincial government’s quiet purchase deal until it was announced. The Liberal government that had been soundly criticized over inaction in dealing with homelessness had set up a numbered company to purchase the hotels in order to deke around speculative property owners hoping to sell at inflated prices, the Tyee reported. The $80 million purchases are money well spent Dobell said of the deals that will provide 405 residential hotel rooms mostly in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside.

The province also promised to develop new supportive housing with on-site staff on three vacant Vancouver lots as well as redeveloping apartment buildings in Victoria and Burnaby, the Tyee reported. Further supportive housing will come after the City of Vancouver completes a series of community meetings to determine how and where to build another 10 to 15 buildings, its contribution to easing the affordable housing conundrum.

Whistler also has its own brand of homelessness, one that occurs each fall when thousands of seasonal workers stream into the resort looking for work and a home. With the resort moving toward becoming an all-season destination more workers are opting to stay year round rather than leaving when the snow melts. Whistler-Blackcomb usually clears its housing wait list by end of January but mid-March this year there were still 50 people on the list. A corresponding low number of vacant positions in the company pointed to an employee base that was deciding to stay for the summer, according to Kirby Brown, the company’s top hirer. Intent on securing housing for its staff Whistler-Blackcomb said it will lease more private homes in the valley for next season and while a good plan for keeping staff happy it doesn’t bode well for seasonal employees not working for the man. By depleting supply it places an even greater pressure on the rental housing pool, a market that, until last month, hadn’t had a new building injection in four years since the opening of Beaver Flats in Creekside. And although a housing committee formed by concerned business types was formed five months ago there hasn’t been a peep from the committee about possible solutions since the committee was brought under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce last December.

Whistler will host a forum next month in which speakers will address potential housing alternatives and where residents both local and seasonal can share ideas about what to do with Whistler’s rental accommodation market.

As I’m leaving Whistler in just over two weeks to return to Victoria and my anxious teenagers who’ve decided close proximity to mom is actually a good thing, the May 9 meeting is too late for me to share my brilliant housing suggestion: Boklok.

Pronounced “book look,” — Swedish for “smart living” — Boklok is not really my brilliant idea but that of retail giant Ikea, according to a recent article in the Guardian. Not content to provide every imaginable household gewgaw for middle-income wage earners, Ikea has moved into the housing development business, building prefabricated three-storey, six-unit apartment buildings that can go up in a day. With an almost scary efficiency Ikea researched their target market — single moms with one child, no car and average incomes — and nailed down their housing needs: secure, small-scale surroundings close to nature, nearby neighbours and with enough functional light-filled space to stuff with Billy bookcases, Poang armchairs, and Kvart lamps. In short, those catalogue photos brought to life.

Selling for about $250,000 CDN the apartments come in a variety of styles and arrive as pre-assembled units with kitted-out interiors. No Allen keys needed to move in, but the apartments are not easy buys. Demand is so high that Ikea holds lotteries for potential residents and makes sure to mix up the population, some of the targeted single moms, but also young couples, families and seniors, the Guardian reported. And although the company has moved its portable neighbourhoods into Denmark and is contemplating Britain, it doesn’t allow saturation in one area — groups of no more than seven buildings or 42 units, Boklok’s marketing manager says.

With Ikea’s ability to adapt Boklok’s design to any intended population — pitched roof, red exterior for Swedes; black exterior, steel balconies for Danes — perhaps they could think up a Whistler version. Rustle up cedar exteriors, stone interior fireplaces, hardwood floors and the ubiquitous lofted living rooms and the most expensive town in Canada just might be able to find room for the 5,000-plus service workers it needs to convince to come live here not just for a season but, if the town wants to keep its edges sharp, for years to come.

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