Rooms still available in temporary housing 

Workforce Whistler Housing Corp. considers January deadline amid uncertain economic times

Workforce Whistler Housing Corp. — formerly Phoenix Housing Mark II — is still waiting to hear from 50 per cent of the businesses that signed up for the original Phoenix temporary housing project and is considering setting a January deadline for commitments.

John Jervis, facilitator of the temporary housing solution for Whistler workers, said he understands that businesses have other concerns to deal with — like the economy and Christmas season — and he has no problem giving them extra time to look at their resource needs.

“I am trying to be sensitive to the timing for businesses, and I am trying to be sensitive to the fact that they have a planning process they have to get through internally, and they are very busy right now setting up for the season,” said Jervis.

“That is why I think we haven’t heard a definitive answer from a number of businesses.”

Since October’s financial meltdown on Wall Street, Whistler’s labour market has taken an unexpected turn. As Whistler heads into the busy winter season, businesses appear to be hiring fewer employees.

The number of help-wanted ads in Pique Newsmagazine has been slashed from 71 on Dec. 4 to 54 on Dec. 11, and to about 40 this week.

Last month, Whistler-Blackcomb made several layoffs.

Other companies are not replacing departed staff, and have cut back on hiring.

“I have two salary positions that are currently vacant that I am holding off until the New Year until I see what life is like,” said Trevor Graham, general manager of Westin Resort and Spa Whistler.

“The pacing of business has changed dramatically. Without bemoaning the woes and the wherefores of the economy, business is still out there, but it is so last minute.”

Four Seasons Resort Whistler is also being cautious with its labour. The hotel offered its staff the opportunity to take a temporary two-week leave before Christmas, as well as pushed back start dates of new hires and arrivals of international hires. New hires whose arrival in Whistler couldn’t be pushed back have been given ski passes for the next two weeks.

“There is certainly a decrease of hours because of business, but we are not laying people off,” said Samantha Geer, public relations director for Four Seasons in Whistler and Vancouver.

“We want to protect them. That is our number one goal.”

Despite the change in the Whistler workforce, Jervis is confident that businesses that are looking into the short-term future will be interested in Workforce Whistler.

“I think the businesses who are participating already, who were quick to get into it, are those forward thinking people that understand that they need to create some certainty around their business operations for that time in the future,” he said.

“There is nothing worse than having instability going into really busy times.”

The Workforce Whistler temporary housing units will likely be ready by January or February this year, and stay up until spring 2010. Rent right now is $700 a month per bed.

Jervis couldn’t say at this point when the project would no longer be feasible. Each month the project is delayed, the amount of revenue coming in decreases substantially.

He did say, however, that if Whistler businesses could not fill the 300 beds, then Workforce Whistler may consider housing workers who have been hired by an outside company to do contract work.

“My directive has been firstly I want to help existing local businesses because that was the official mandate from the chamber and that is the people that I really think we should be helping, because they pay taxes in town,” said Jervis.

“Secondly, if they can’t fill the whole allocated bed units for whatever reason — because they all have challenges now the way the economy has gone — then we would look elsewhere, but it would only be people who would end up working here anyway.”

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