Seasonal employee housing requires new approach 

It will be another month or so before the Whistler Housing Authority has a final report on employee numbers and housing shortages for last winter, but indications are the situation this winter is not going to be much better.

"We?re still moving up in the numbers of employees we have, but not as rapidly as in previous years," housing administrator Tim Wake said this week.

"Indications are the growth rate has moderated a bit from last winter."

Demand for housing far outstripped supply again last winter. There are three projects that will provide at least 285 new employee-restricted beds this winter, but housing is still expected to be a problem for many employees and businesses.

The new projects include the 172-bed Westside building Whistler-Blackcomb is building near Twin Lakes, the WHA?s Beaver Flats apartment building at Creekside, which will provide approximately 90 beds, and the 12 employee-restricted duplexes the WHA has built at Beaver Flats.

The duplexes are aimed at local families and are already occupied. The housing authority will start offering the rental units in the Beaver Flats apartment building to people on the WHA wait list next week. The building is on schedule for completion prior to the ski season. The Westside building will be available to employees of Whistler-Blackcomb and is expected to be available for occupancy by the time the ski season starts.

While the new projects will help address the employee housing problem, the largest percentage of employees rely on the private sector for housing; primarily suites in cabins or entire houses rented by a group of people. However, as property values continue to climb, and older cabins are torn down and replaced with new homes, this supply of rental housing is expected to decline.

The WHA has built and helped facilitate the building of several rent-restricted and owner-restricted employee housing projects, but they are aimed at full-time Whistler residents. Seasonal employee housing is another matter.

"I think we have to distinguish a difference between seasonal employees and year-round employees," Wake said. "The whole seasonal housing crunch is suggesting a different solution than what we?ve been doing."

The answer may be to tie seasonal employee housing to those businesses that employ people on a seasonal basis. Businesses would provide a job and a place to live by leasing or owning a unit in a housing project. The accommodation and the job would be linked and governed by the Hoteliers Act, rather than the Landlord-Tenant Act. This is the way Whistler-Blackcomb has operated with its staff housing for years.

One proposed project of this type ? developed by a private contractor who would own the building and lease the units to small businesses, which would in turn sub-lease to employees ? is currently working its way through municipal hall. The chamber of commerce has a committee that is working to educate employers about the need to get involved in this type of project.

"I think the solution is to have employers take responsibility for where their employees are living," Wake said.

Meanwhile, the WHA report on last winter?s housing situation is expected in mid-October.

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