Tough winter expected on housing front 

Chamber invites businesses to brainstorm ideas for accommodating seasonal employees

It’s going to be another tough year to house seasonal employees in Whistler.

That’s the prediction from business owners and managers in the valley as they prepare for the onslaught of eager workers in the next six weeks.

“It’s going to be a tough year for housing again,” said Kirby Brown, director of employee experience at Whistler-Blackcomb.

“I think everybody’s nervous.”

To try to ease some of those concerns the Whistler Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum for businesses affected by the seasonal housing shortage. The meeting, which will be held Tuesday, Sept. 18 is designed to identify how businesses are currently affected, review housing initiatives now underway and generate possible ideas and solutions.

Chamber president Louise Lundy said the meeting is intended to generate dialogue and possible solutions on how to remove roadblocks to deal with the seasonal housing crunch. The meeting is not intended to deal with concerns about long-term housing needs, such as the Rainbow project.

Scott Carrell, co-owner of Affinity Sports, has been running an ad in the back of the paper for the past several weeks, asking people to call him if they have seasonal housing for his staff. He is interested in a variety of housing, from three-bedroom homes to renting a room with a family.

Affinity typically grows from a staff of six permanent employees to around 90 employees during the winter.

Carrell is looking to secure about 20 beds before November. He thinks this year will be worse than last year.

“We’ve had two good years so there’s more demand,” he said. “People are wanting to come to Whistler again for a working holiday and there’s a lot more construction people in town who aren’t leaving.”

Brown agrees the construction workers and the two good seasons past will compound problems this year.

With its built apartment inventory and through the Valley Housing Program, where Whistler-Blackcomb secures short-term leases in the community, Brown is able to guarantee roughly 1,200 beds. That’s generally enough to meet the number of new hires at the company in the fall.

“But… there’s always that nasty stretch between mid-October to mid-December,” he said, of the time when workers are securing jobs and trying to secure their housing. “That, this year, is not going to be a pleasant situation for anybody.”

Carrell said the answer lies in building long-term rental housing.

“Until we build long-term rental stock that will never be sold, apartment blocks for seasonal employees to come in, we’re going to have this problem,” he said,

“To me, that’s where the greatest weakness is.

“We have to not just want to see this occur but we have to make this occur. That always involves removing obstacles.”

If the problem is this bad now, he is not confident things are going to get better for the 2010 Olympic Games.

“I don’t know where our employees will live during the Olympics, quite frankly,” said Carrell.

All businesses are welcome to the forum to brainstorm ideas and solutions for increasing seasonal employee housing.

The forum will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Diamond Head room at the Hilton Whistler Resort.

A panel of chamber, municipal and Whistler Housing Authority representatives will be on hand to answer questions and hear from the business community.

To ensure the chamber books adequate room size, RSVP to Jaime at 604-932-6922 ext. 24.

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