Shining a light on Whistler's housing woes 

Coun. Jackson sets sights on housing file

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CARIN SMOLINSKI - LIVING THE DREAM Unique living in Whistler is nothing new. Photographer Carin Smolinski has been documenting unique and creative living situations in Whistler since 2009, and says she has a speial gift for anyone with a great place to photograph (find her on Facebook at Carin Smolinski Photography, and check out her Living the Dream exhibit at the Maury Young Arts Centre until Monday, Nov. 19).
  • Photo by Carin Smolinski
  • LIVING THE DREAM Unique living in Whistler is nothing new. Photographer Carin Smolinski has been documenting unique and creative living situations in Whistler since 2009, and says she has a speial gift for anyone with a great place to photograph (find her on Facebook at Carin Smolinski Photography, and check out her Living the Dream exhibit at the Maury Young Arts Centre until Monday, Nov. 19).

Over his three years in Whistler, Vincent Dessuro has had to go on the hunt for housing more than once.

"I've had to look on Craigslist, Facebook and so on, and this year was the worst ever," Dessuro said.

"There's actually nothing being posted at all compared to other years, where you had the sense that, yeah, you could probably figure something out."

As Opening Day approaches, it's safe to say Dessuro is not alone in his search.

There are more than 1,000 names on the Whistler Housing Authority's (WHA) rental waitlist, and meager offerings on local Facebook pages.

After a dispute with his landlord (and subsequent complicated dealings with the provincial Residential Tenancy Branch), Dessuro recently found himself living on a friend's couch—and motivated to do something.

The Quebec native is now planning a documentary shining a light on Whistler's housing woes.

"I feel the need to investigate a little bit more about what's going on in Whistler and expose the situation, because I feel like sometimes people see Whistler as that little paradise, but there's a lot of downsides to it," Dessuro said.

"Obviously people speak about it, but I don't think there is enough that gets done or actually gets exposed in a proper way."

During his time in Whistler, Dessuro said he's been turned down for accommodation because he owns a car, or because the owner only wanted to rent to a woman.

He's seen places housing 10 people in three bedrooms (sharing one fridge), and places where the owner insists on sleeping on the couch on weekends.

"People have to make compromises constantly," he said.

"There is so many conditions where it's like, this is not normal. People are taking advantage of the whole situation. It's absolutely crazy."

With his documentary, Dessuro hopes to highlight the problem through interviews with Whistler locals and government officials as well as reps from the WHA and the Residential Tenancy Branch.

"I basically want to expose many, many stories in Whistler," he said.

"I want to speak with people and basically walk into their apartments and just take some footage."

Anyone interested in collaborating on the project or sharing their story can email Dessuro at vincent.dessuro@gmail.com or message him on Facebook.

At the local level, new Mayor Jack Crompton has assigned recently elected Councillor Duane Jackson to the crucial housing portfolio.

In an email, Jackson said he understands the challenges for businesses and seasonal employees who can't find or afford suitable housing.

"My first objective is to appreciate the various projects initiated by the previous council, including the financial obligations of the two WHA projects under construction," Jackson wrote.

"Secondly, to review the private sector proposals with respect to appropriateness of design, proposed rental rates and overall probability of success in the short- to- medium-term. And lastly, to focus on what we can fast-track from the Cheakamus Crossing work done to date. This work will probably involve re-evaluating the role of the WHA and its portfolio of assets. I think we need to look at all the RMOW inventory, including all the legacy lands, to see how we can comfortably build the next phases of rental and ownership housing."

While the objective is to be in the ground next spring, Jackson said it's still too early to say to what extent, or how many projects will be underway.

"But I'm confident this council will figure out a way continue the momentum of the last council," he said.

"Housing is a high priority of this council and that is what I'll be working on for this term."

The next council meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 20, 5:30 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre.

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