WHA surveys are 'the voice of the people' 

"The more information we have, the better we can help solve the employee housing shortage."

That is the message from the Whistler Housing Authority which is urging local businesses and workers to fill out and return its annual survey on the resort?s employee housing situation.

Survey forms have been sent out to 350 businesses and 4,000 employees in Whistler over the past week, profiling factors such as rent costs, landlord relationships and the employee shortfall due to accommodation shortages.

Lindsey Starr, the survey co-ordinator and a University of Victoria student, says the resulting information is used to track current trends and predict future housing needs. She says the surveys are basically the voice of the people.

"They are used as a tool in negotiations with the municipality for building more employee housing," she says. "The goal is to avoid the situation of 10 people crammed to a room paying $700 a month each, and to ensure that housing prices are not pushed out of the reach of local workers."

The long-term benefits include a less transient population and greater employee stability for local businesses, she adds.

Previous years have seen the survey sent out to in excess of 900 Whistler businesses. However Rick Staehli, WHA general manager, says the current survey round covers 90 per cent of employees in the valley, and avoids duplicating data capture of small businesses that have consistent staffing levels year to year.

Starr adds that focussing on the major companies should increase the level of participation, which has been as low as 2,000 out of 10,000 surveys returned in the past.

Staehli says there is no hard data available on the housing situation for the 2000-.01 ski season, but estimates of the shortfall range from 500 to 1,200 employee beds.

"Judging from the feedback from the business community and in line with the chamber (of commerce), the housing authority believes the shortfall is more in the 600-700 bed range."

He says the 1,200 figure could be attributed to people being willing to crowd together to save money, but overall the shortage is too high and damaging to Whistler?s social and economic future.

For that reason, he says, the WHA is putting more emphasis on creating an additional 500 short-term rental beds over the next two to three years.

"Our targets have always been based on creating employee restricted housing without undermining the private sector, which provides the bulk of employee beds through renting homes and basement suites," Staehli says. "Our goal has been to put one-third of local workers into employee restricted housing, with a 50-50 split between rentals and ownership. The Spring Creek, 19 Mile and Spruce Grove developments have gone some way towards meeting the pent-up demand for purchase but there is an increasing, obvious demand for short-term rentals over the next few years at least."

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