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Whistler Phoenix Project for Temporary Housing Put to Rest
Temporary housing project cancelled in Whistler while local businesses scramble to find alternative accommodations according to Claire P for the Pique Newspaper. Once month after the Whistler Phoenix Board first announced their temporary housing complex was on shaky ground, the real estate project to house 308 Whistler employees from this winter through the 2010 Winter Olympics has been proclaimed dead.

The announcement came on Monday, after the top three interested suppliers told the Phoenix whistler board they could not make the Whistler temporary housing real estate project work given current constraints. “When it came to it, they did not feel it made sense for them,” said Phoenix Project spokesperson Brian Who is also general manager of employee experience for Whistler-Blackcomb. “We, unfortunately, made the announcement to business last night. We are not moving ahead. We are back to individual businesses trying to find houses.” Good was not able to name the three potential suppliers for the Whistler temporary housing real estate project called the Phoenix project, but said they were all reputable companies from BC. He added that he is preparing for participating businesses’ mixed reactions now that the temporary housing Whistler complex is no longer happening. “I just hope that people will not only recognize that we have made every effort that we could, but also that we’ve come away knowing that we need a long-term solution,” said Good.

More about the Cancellation of the Phoenix Temporary Housing Project in Whistler Resort
The Phoenix project was started earlier this year as a two winter solution to Whistler’s housing crunch. By the fall of 2010, the Winter Olympic athlete’s village will become resident restricted housing and the Rainbow real estate development in Whistler resort will also add to the pool of affordable Whistler resident housing. After concerted efforts by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, the municipality and others to push the temporary housing Whistler Phoenix project forward, in late August, the Phoneix board revealed that SG Blocks supplier was short $3 million. The following week, the American supplier was dropped from the Whistler temporary affordable housing project. Since that time, several interested companies approached the Phoenix Board to see if they might be able to make the temporary Whistler housing project happen. The Phoenix Board reviewed the top three proposals but set a September 22nd deadline to make a final decision on whether or not to carry out the project. Now that Phoenix housing project is defunct, the 42 businesses that put down payments on the temporary Whistler affordable housing will have to find alternative accommodations for their employees in an already tight Whistler rental market. Marla Zucht, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), said the Whistler housing crunch appears to be greater this year than before. “We were seeing it in August with new employees arriving in town and already coming into our office,” said Zucht, who is also a member of the Phoenix Whistler Board for temporary affordable housing. “That is an unusual scenario. WE would not have experienced that in the past years. It would usually be October that some people would make their way into our office.”

The Need for Affordable Whistler Resort Housing Is Peaking Now
According to stats collected by the WHA, the number of unrestricted rental Whistler housing units available for rent during the week of August 23rd has decreased substantially since 2004. Particularly in 2006 there were 260 units listed, in 2007 there were 78 units and this year there were only 40 housing units up for rent. Zucht added that while a 111 bed WHA rental unit near Nesters will be reopened this year, the Whistler housing situation is still going to be tough. “Every bed helps for sure, but the demand is still so much stronger than the investory we have out there,” said Zucht. Joey Gibbons, owner of four bars in Whistler and the biggest participant in the Phoenix project for affordable temporary Whistler housing with 50 beds, said now that the real estate project has been cancelled, his company will “just have to get really creative,” to get through the next winter. “I’ll have to explore other options, whether it be locally or in Pemberton or Squamish,” said Gibbons. “We’ll just have to figure it out as we go and sit down and do what we can do.” Gibbons added that while historically his company has not had accommodation issues in the Whistler rental market, he signed up for four beds in Phoenix Project in Whistler temporary housing because he realized how tough the rental market was becoming in Whistler. Whistler-Blackcomb, the second largest participant in Phoenix Whistler project for affordable temporary housing, also hopes to operate efficiently without the extra beds that Phoenix could provide. “We are as well off as we were last year, and last year was a record year. It is just that we wanted, for us and the Whistler community, to lighten some of the pressure so people could find a bed more easily,” Good said. Good said Whistler-Blackcomb’s revamped recruiting strategy, where the bulk of full time employees are hired overseas before arriving in Whistler, should help reduce the November housing rental rush. He added that Whistler Blackcomb is also combining jobs to “better utilize our beds.” For example, a 24 hour a week retail job might be joined with a 24 hour a week food and beverage job, he said.

More about the future of affordable rental housing in Whistler-Blackcomb
Other businesses are trying to proactively secure other Whistler rental accommodation for their employees. Pradeep Puri, GM of the Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa, said for the past three weeks, the Hilton has advertised in local newspapers that they are willing to offer landlords a two year contract with guarantee to cover all damages. He added, “Obviously I am disappointed that this thing has fallen through, but the community’s efforts are commendable for trying until the last moment.” Chris Quinlan, Phoenix Board member and owner of Behind the Grind Coffee Shop, added that most businesses have graciously accepted that the affordable temporary housing Whistler rental Phoenix Project has been abandoned. “It is really disappointing, but the reaction from all the businesses so far has been ‘Thanks for giving it your best shot’”. He added “ This has just identified how serious of a need there is for rental temporary Whistler accommodation. For us to try and fool ourselves to thinking we do not need it is just ridiculous.” Meanwhile, the Phoenix Board has not yet been disbanded, and Zucht said the board may be willing to explore other temporary housing solutions that come their way. “The additional media coverage (with Phoenix Project) has helped highlight the issues for other companies, so maybe there is still a possibility that there will be other opportunities to explore,” she said. Added Good, “I think we have to get a group of people together again to go, ‘Okay, what is a different way we could do this?’ “Given the situation that we are in, we are probably going to need a group at some point to look at this next year and the years after.”

VANOC, Provincial Partner on Homeless Whistler Housing Project
This week the province of BC and VANOC announced an agreement that would reconfigure 320 temporary housing units in the Whistler’s Athletes’ Village into 156 permanent affordable housing unit. After the 2010 Olympic Winter Games the Whistler modular units will be reconfigured with bathrooms and kitchens, and sent to six communities including Chetwynd, Chilliwack, Enderby, Saanich, Sechelt and Surrey. It took two years to finalize the Memo of Understanding between the province of BC and VANOC. The Whistler temporary housing will be purchased for approximately $18.2 million with VANOC providing $9.4 million and additional support from Olympic sponsors Rona, Britco, and others making up the difference. Post Olympic Games, the province will contribute $20 million to relocate and reconfigure the Whistler temporary housing nits, as well as to provide sites in the participating communities.

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