Summer rental market tightest since pre-Olympic period 

Tenants signing longer-term, renewing year-after-year, real estate rep says

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - On the Hunt Paul Phillips, seen here in Whistler with his wife and children, is one of many struggling to find accommodation in the resort.
  • photo submitted
  • On the Hunt Paul Phillips, seen here in Whistler with his wife and children, is one of many struggling to find accommodation in the resort.

When Paul Phillips and his wife came to Whistler from the United Kingdom in 2002, it wasn't easy to find a place to live.

"After two weeks of asking everyone we met and checking every notice board in town we found a 300-square-foot suite where the bed folded out of the wall... for $750 a month," Phillips said.

The couple lived in Whistler until 2004 before moving back to the U.K.

One decade and two kids later, the couple returned to Canada, only to find an even tighter Whistler rental market waiting for them.

"Back in those days the Pique was the go-to for accommodation, whereas I'm finding now there is hardly anything on there," Phillips said.

The ads Phillips has found and responded to have been slow to get back to him, if at all.

"Perhaps by the time they've placed the ad, maybe they've filled the property? I don't know, we can only guess."

The couple — now a family of four — moved to Vancouver last November hoping to recapture the spirit of Whistler they discovered here 10 years ago.

"We're kind of going out there on a bit of a gamble, really," Phillips said.

"We've got a lot riding on it, and finding the right property at the right price is pretty important."

While finding accommodations for four makes things harder, the Phillips family isn't alone in its search.

Stephanie Fairweather made the move from Vancouver a few weeks back after making arrangements for a reasonably priced room.

"I came up on a Monday and I couldn't move into this house until Friday, so I stayed with my friends for a week," Fairweather said.

"On the Thursday before I was about to move in they inboxed me on Facebook and said that, 'Oh, sorry, the girl's not moving out anymore, so the place is not available.'"

It wasn't the first time Fairweather has had accommodations fall through on her.

"That's happened twice now and yeah, I don't have a place," she said.

"I don't care if I share, I just need something that's under $700."

A tight rental market in Whistler is expected for the winter months, but in recent years things have been much more open in the summer.

Stats provided by the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) show that, in the years following the Olympics, unrestricted rental unit availability from March to October was often hovering around the 200 mark.

The numbers have declined steadily in the last three years, reaching a five-year summer low of just 11 available unrestricted rental units on June 20 of this year.

"The unit availability is still tracking consistently with last year's numbers at the same time, but both of the years obviously have shown a significant drop in availability from 2010, 2011 and 2012," said Marla Zucht, general manager of the WHA.

"I think a big part of that was it took a few years for the market to absorb the large quantity of the resident-restricted units that we brought on as a result of the Olympic and Paralympics athletes housing."

The Olympic Athletes' Village housing provided 221 affordable ownership units and 55 WHA-owned rental units — all of which are now full.

This year's tight summer market could lead to another tight winter rental market, Zucht said.

"We've experienced fewer turnovers in our WHA rental inventory this past spring and summer, and for leases that are ending this fall we're hearing most of our tenants are planning to renew their leases rather than trying to find other accommodations," she said.

"So we're projecting (fewer) turnovers in our WHA inventory this fall."

According to Whistler real estate rep Jake Breuer, the tight rental market could possibly be attributed to the success of the current RMOW council.

"I find work in town is becoming more steady in part due to the current council, who I think is doing a great job bringing more and more new festivals, conferences, and events to town, increasing our tourism traffic, shortening our dead seasons, and creating this steady, stable work environment which helps make living here more sustainable," Breuer said in an email.

Thanks in part to Whistler's success and a steady economy, more tenants are signing long-term leases and renewing them year after year, Breuer said.

"They're just not leaving. Yes, the rents are climbing higher, but given the work/play lifestyle we experience here, it's totally worth it," he said.

"So long as we keep getting snow, I expect this trend to continue."

The housing crunch has more renters looking to Squamish or Pemberton, leading to a bit of a housing pinch in those communities as well, Breuer said.

With accommodation getting harder to find, the shortage of seasonal workers could grow — a trend that's already being seen in the hospitality industry.

"Perhaps the resort and other big business in town will have to develop more staff housing units," Breuer said.

The housing crunch could also lead to more instances of overstuffed houses and unsafe living spaces — also not a new trend for Whistler.

Even in 2012, when available summer units were hovering around the 100 mark, some were resorting to less-than-desirable living conditions.

In the case of Ben Ruddy, that meant being one of 18 people living on a single property on Eagle Drive.

Ruddy's "bedroom" was a storage cupboard by the front door.

"(The landlord) had knocked a little bit of one wall in to put some shelving in. That was the only storage in the room, and then there was a bed, and there was probably a foot of space around the bed."

Ruddy was charged $450 a month for his cupboard.

"There's a good few houses where they just cram people in. Sometimes you'll see an ad on Facebook or something and it will say 'Will fit one couple or six Australians,'" Ruddy said.

"It's a running joke in town that places like that just exist."


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