WHA survey targets employee leakage in resort 

Hard data should help decision making process on future housing projects

The Whistler Housing Authority is taking the first steps to calculate just how many employee beds are disappearing every year in the resort.

A mass mail out with seven simple questions should be in the mailboxes of every single family home and duplex in Whistler this week.

The 2,800 home survey should ultimately help the municipality get a firm grasp on the "leakage" problem in Whistler.

The word "leakage" in Whistler is used to describe the loss of any market bed in the resort that once housed an employee and is now no longer available to an employee. It may be lost because of the rising prices or by virtue of it being physically removed. Whatever the reason, market beds for employees are disappearing.

"Our community keeps asking 'what is the leakage?'" said Tim Wake, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority.

"Every time we go to make a decision (about resident housing) our councillors ask 'what is the leakage?'"

The truth is, no one in Whistler really knows for sure, said Wake.

For several years the WHA's estimates have pointed to Whistler's leakage at roughly 200 beds per year.

Whistler's resident workforce has stayed at roughly 10,500 for the past six years, but every year the WHA has been adding roughly 200 employee beds to the housing pool.

Though Wake admits this is a rudimentary approach to a very complex equation, the point remains that the new resident housing is most likely making up for units that are disappearing in the market housing.

This survey is the first step to figuring out how big the problem is in Whistler. It will show the WHA how many people are living in single family and duplex market housing as well as where they are living. It will also highlight the split between tenants and owners.

"What this survey is going to do is establish a benchmark," Wake said.

"All we're doing is measuring the size of the reservoir."

Once the benchmark is established this year, the WHA will be able to track the movement of employees in years to come and monitor any leakage.

If more and more employees are leaving the resort, there will be firm numbers to back up a call for more resident restricted housing.

"Whenever we have to justify building more (resident housing), we have to say why," said Wake.

"The growth in our workforce is slowing down and eventually it may even stop... so why must we build all this housing?

"The reason is because of the leakage."

Every day a handful of employees come into the WHA to ask for an application to get on the purchase list for resident housing.

That list now has more than 300 people and is growing every week.

Wake is asking everyone who receives the survey to participate with the WHA.

"We're simply trying to preserve the community," he said.

Last spring the WHA received a $10,000 grant from Affordability and Choice Today to conduct this survey.

ACT is sponsored by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and jointly managed with the Canadian Home Builders' Association, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Wake said through the mail out and the phone survey he is hoping to get responses from residents in all 2,500 single family homes and duplexes in Whistler.

"This number is going to be pretty accurate," said Wake.

The WHA is also looking for volunteers for the phone survey. Call 604-905-4688 to volunteer.

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