Short-term housing crunch solutions in the works 

Employers gather to find room for job-seeking seasonal staff

Hostel rates at bed and breakfasts and hotels, changes to nightly rental zoning, and the need for a central booking agency. Just some of the hot topics discussed at a meeting of local business owners concerned about short-term accommodation for seasonal workers looking for jobs in Whistler.

"This is the cold water flowing in our faces," said McDonald’s owner Tom Horler, leading the meeting of about 10 local employers at the Whistler Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday afternoon.

With the Shoestring Lodge permanently closing this spring there are now 116 fewer low-budget beds for seasonal workers to stay in this fall while they look for work in Whistler. With hundreds of potential workers expected to start arriving within the next few weeks, employers are scrambling to find alternative temporary accommodation for the peak hiring months, October-December.

Whistler Housing Authority’s Linda Blake led the brainstorming session that included suggestions of establishing a temporary hostel in vacant Function Junction commercial space and asking the municipality to relax zoning rules so residents could offer up spare rooms for nightly rentals.

"That (nightly rentals) is a can of worms that we’re not going to open," said Councillor Ralph Forsyth, attending the meeting.

William Roberts, who has been studying the ongoing labour shortage in Whistler as a member of Whistler Forum, a local strategy group, didn’t like that response.

"Some message has to get to the municipality," Roberts said. "How could they have let Shoestring go and not have thought of the problem it would create?"

"It’s no one’s job to think of it," Forsythe said.

A small tension in a fast-moving meeting that saw the employers cull a list of 20 ideas down to five. Volunteers stepped up to take ideas further: approaching Whistler-Blackcomb to allocate 10 beds for potential workers who may not end up working for the company, approaching the chamber to manage a central booking agency for temporary accommodation and organizing bed and breakfast owners interested in offering Shoestring-comparable rates in their traditionally slow season.

A core committee will meet again Aug. 11. For more information or to attend, contact Horler at 604-932-1314.

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