Search for short-term housing intensifies 

Olympic sponsors, local businesses look for units to house workers before, during and after Games

By Alison Taylor

As Olympic sponsors and providers search for more housing in Whistler leading up to the 2010 Games, concerns are growing about an increasing housing shortage for local employees.

“It’s a huge, huge issue for me,” Scott Pass, manager of Whistler Transit told the mayor Tuesday night.

“We need to come up with some temporary solutions to get us over (the Olympics).”

He later explained his worries are focused on the shortage of housing over the next two winters in the busy lead up to the Games.

Local business owner Chris Quinlan echoed these sentiments at Tuesday’s Dialogue Café with Mayor Ken Melamed.

“I’m already contracting employees for 2010,” said Quinlan who runs Behind the Grind coffee shop.

“We have to find them this housing.”

Even though council has approved the two biggest employee housing projects in recent years — the Rainbow subdivision and the athletes’ village — there are still concerns about the short-term Olympic demands on a housing inventory generally taxed beyond its limits every winter. Those two projects will not be available in the immediate short-term.

Quinlan pointed to companies like Bell Canada who are now looking to secure housing for workers in the three to four months leading up to the Games, during the Games and after the Games.

Telecommunications workers are just one example of the workforce needed for the Games. There will also be security staff, volunteers, bus drivers, cleaning staff — to name just a few.

That could potentially affect the already stretched winter housing inventory in 2010.

Norm Silins, Bell’s general manager of Olympic services, confirmed this week that the company needs to secure housing for 450 workers — 200 of those will be in Whistler, the remainder in Vancouver.

“We’ve been looking with some of the strata councils and the hotels as well,” he said, adding that Olympic organizers are facilitating the discussions.

“(The Bell employees will) be doing the overlay installation for all the telecommunications requirements… and at Games time they will be operating the network that we have dedicated to the Games.”

Mayor Ken Melamed was not surprised to hear the concerns raised at the Dialogue Café.

“It has been so top of mind for everybody,” he said the following day. “It’s something we live with on a daily basis here. We know that it’s highly unpredictable one-year to the next. Different factors will come into play, some more challenging than others.”

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