November 23, 2011 Features & Images » Feature Story

Whistler Housing Authority comes of age with 1,900-unit legacy 

Employee housing not an election issue for the first time ever


Craig Koszman owns a "little piece of paradise" in Whistler.

It's not big; it will never appreciate at the pace of free market housing; and when he sells his one bedroom plus den, the next owner must be an employee in town.

But that doesn't matter. He's not planning on selling any time soon.

Koszman considers himself one of the lucky ones. Back in 2006 he had been on the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) waitlist for more than a decade, turning down other units until the Nita Lake Lodge 44-unit project, which suited him to a tee, came up for sale.

"It was well worth the wait," said the 47-year-old Koszman.

It would seem the oftentimes-desperate wait for employee housing, price restricted so Whistler employees can buy into the secondary real estate market, is now over.

Where once the WHA housing list was hundreds strong and moving at a snail's pace, forcing some serious soul searching as people decided if they would stay renting in the resort or move out to buy real estate, now more than 1,000 locals have been housed in the last year alone.

The housing conundrum, which for years plagued the community, even making headlines in the Lower Mainland newspapers with stories of landlord price gouging and atrocious living conditions, appears to have been solved. And housing, which has long been a battle cry of council hopefuls every election cycle, including the last, was remarkably a non-issue in the 2011 election.

"It's a great place to be finally for the community," said WHA general manager Marla Zucht.

She remembers going to the annual Welcome Week dinner every year and hearing the horror stories of new arrivals who were paying $1,000 a month for a shared room because housing was in such demand, and desperation, as the ski season drew closer, reached fever pitch.

"I always just felt so bad for those new employees," said Zucht.

Last week at the dinner she didn't hear any of those same stories.

Because of the ripple effect of adding more WHA employee housing in recent years, the pressure has been released on the rental market. In the last year, with the advent of hundreds of units after the 2010 Olympic Games (the athletes' village at Cheakamus Crossing) as well as the Rainbow housing project, Whistler residents have moved out of rental suites, freeing up that market for many seasonal employees. Rents have come down as a result.

"I'm thrilled at where Whistler is now but I think we owe a lot to circumstance," said former WHA general manager Tim Wake, who shepherded the organization through some of its toughest times.

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