– WHISTLER – A name that has a magic ring to it – at least when you’re either into snow sports or mountain biking. In fact, it’s North America’s biggest ski area and every year, it attracts more and more people from all over the world. And although we know about the negative impacts of the ski industry on the environment, we succumbed to the legend’s call to find out what this hype is all about. So about a week ago, we caught a greyhound bus and drove right into the heart of this hyped winter wonderland.
Almost immediately, we were confronted with a problem that is omnipresent in town: The shocking (!) housing crisis. Getting a job in Whistler is the easy part. Almost every shop displays a desperate “We’re hiring!” sign in its windows and it’s quite common to get a signing bonus, free ski pass and free meals. Sounds sweet? Yes…. BUT. These treats are a result of the fact that there is just not enough long-term housing space in Whistler. We soon learnt that this is an issue that is affecting everyone, not only seasonal/international workers.
Some employers offer staff housing but the waiting lists are loooong, especially at the beginning of the winter season. And the normal shared houses are being rented out for ridiculous prices (like $2,000 per room and month) and more often than not, you don’t even have a room for yourself. We met full-time working people who slept in campervans (in winter!) because they had not found anywhere to live. We heard of landlords who ask you to pay 6months of rent upfront – in addition to a huge deposit, of course – and who make you sign a contract that strictly forbids you to have friends crashing on your couch. We got told to check a diversity of Facebook groups, magazines and various online platforms h-o-u-r-l-y (don’t hesitate to email us if you need more detailed information about these!) and to accept any offer we might get, no matter how expensive. “There’s always a price to pay in order to fulfil your dreams”, they said. It seemed that there was no other topic than the housing crisis in our hostel and it was hard to see people’s optimism get crushed and grinded down to pieces with every passing day.
There are a few reasons that led to the current situation:
- Stupid city planning: We can’t name it any other way (however, we are not sure about how strict the building code is in the valley…). There are loads of luxurious hotels but only a few normal residences. And most hotels refuse to rent some of their rooms out to their own staff because naturally, you can get more money of the tourists. An attitude that already shows consequences though: We saw a fair number of restaurants or shops that are closed because there is just not enough staff to operate them.
- International fame: Whistler is North America’s Number 1 and naturally, that attracts many people. Too many people. When talking to locals, they claimed that housing has always been a problem is Whistler but that the issue has become even worse since the little town hosted the Olympics in 2010.
- Air BnB: We love the original idea of that platform and have used it a lot on our own travels. Yet, it has become severely commercialized by now and is stealing away living space from locals all over the world (Berlin is no exception there…). When you check out Whistler on AirBnB, they are loads of results in the area – compared to about 1-3 free rooms on Craigslist. Again, a result of the human greed for filthy lucre…
Over a personal connection and some luck we actually got offered two rooms. Which is something other people can only DREAM OF after a mere week there. And to be honest, we were tempted to take one of them and “pay the price” for living in Whistler. We honestly were because as tough as the housing crisis is, the vibe and community in Whistler are truly great and the snowy mountains do seem like an endless playground. But luckily, we listened to that odd feeling in our stomachs and talked it through… and then declined both offers. Instead, we decided to NOT let ourselves get exploited by greedy landlords and a totally f’%ked-up system just in order to live in an overly-hyped place. Instead, we made use of HelpX, reached out to some organic farmers on Vancouver Island and settled on a Plan B; a plan that seemed to be more ‘like us’ anyways.
Bye, Whistler and thanks for teaching us this lesson!
P.S.: For the podcast fans among yous…