British Columbia

Hot real estate market in Whistler puts pressure on stable housing for residents

Whistler Chamber of Commerce says hot real estate market makes it hard for local businesses to recruit and retain workers

Whistler Chamber of Commerce says hot market makes it hard for local businesses to recruit and retain workers

The Resort Municipality of Whistler is home to a wide range of vacation rentals, resorts, hotels and condos. But finding affordable housing for its workers has always been challenging. (CBC)

Whistler has worked hard to ensure affordable, stable housing for its resident workforce — but the resort town's mayor says the market is becoming compressed, thanks in part to the weak Canadian dollar and perhaps due to short-term rental sites such as Airbnb.

"We are seeing a lot of pressure on our real estate market," said Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, speaking to host Gloria Macarenko during a special live broadcast of B.C. Almanac at the Whistler Brewhouse on March 4.

High demand, low supply

"We're seeing our American friends come back, and we've had an extraordinarily busy summer and winter season."

Val Litwin (left), CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, and Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Mordon discuss the resort town's housing issues during a live broadcast of B.C. Almanac on March 4 at the Whistler Brewhouse. (Shiral Tobin/CBC)

Anne Chaisson, a Whistler-based realtor with Re/Max, said according to the listings she has there are 73 chalets on the market, 99 condominiums (ranging from $49,000 for a small studio to $830,000 for a two bedroom) and 63 townhomes.

"So we have a grand total of 229 properties available for people that come to town," she said.

"That's why we're actually seeing the multiple offers situation, because we have more buyers today — some of them American, some of them European. We still have [buyers from] Singapore and Hong Kong, but they tend to be in the upper end."

Val Litwin, the CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses are struggling to house their workers. He said one solution could be having rental housing in which businesses could pre-lease rooms and suites, much like a dormitory.

"We're definitely getting feedback from the business community that this is one of the things that makes it difficult to both recruit and retain folks in the resort."

Does Airbnb affect housing stock?

Mayor Wilhelm-Morden said she is not sure what affect short-term rental sites such as Airbnb and VRBO might be having on the market, but added "of course it takes product away from full-time residents who would otherwise be renting the particular units."

While it is unclear what effect Airbnb may be having on Whistler, the data from Vancouver listings seems to suggest that Airbnb is affecting long-term rental housing in that city.

Whistler Village, as viewed from the mountain. (Whistler Ski and Snowboard Festival/Facebook)

Data analyst Murray Cox found that two-thirds of of the Airbnb listings for Vancouver are for entire properties and many of those are being rented out for more than 90 days in a year

Wilhelm-Morden said Whistler Village is properly zoned for these short-term rentals, but other neighbourhoods aren't — and violations are enforced through a complaint basis.

She said that Whistler has taken significant steps to ensure that they can house their residents.

She remembers that, during her time on council in the 1980s, they took a fact finding trip to Colorado.

Plans to create more housing

In Aspen, she was alarmed to see hardly any children and big traffic jams in the morning and afternoon from workers commuting from the outskirts into the resort town.

"We came back from that trip saying we can't have Whistler turn into that where nobody lives there. It was so important to maintain the vitality and the vibrancy of our town by ensuring that we had people who live and work here."

In the 1990s the Whistler Housing Authority was created.

"We set a goal of housing 75 per cent of our workforce, and today we are housing approximately 80 per cent of our workforce here," she said.

"That's not to say we still don't have challenges. We do, but we are way ahead of the game as far as providing affordable housing for our workers."

Wilhelm-Morden said the Whistler Housing Authority is in the process of constructing a three-storey rental apartment building with 27 dwelling units.

"We also, as a legacy of the [Olympic] Games, have a 300-acre land bank which will be available for the creation of more affordable housing," she said.

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Hot real estate market in Whistler puts pressure on affordable housing stock


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