Housing crunch forces action

An early snowfall signifies the approach of winter but is Sun Peaks ready? Many are still looking for housing and seasonal employees. Photo Quinn Rischmueller
An early snowfall signifies the approach of winter but is Sun Peaks ready? Many are still looking for housing and seasonal employees. Photo Quinn Rischmueller

It’s a tough year to be a new rental resident in Sun Peaks.

Megan Kolodka, manager of Vertical Café, hired three new staff members for the upcoming winter season who were unable to find housing options and had to be let go to find work elsewhere.

“At first I wasn’t worried,” Kolodka said. “It was challenging last year but this year was even worse. It was just impossible
this year.”

Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR), the largest employer in the village, currently has approximately 200 spots for staff in the dormitory-style Little Shuswap Lodge. All units were full by August with a growing waiting list.

SPR’s vice-president and general manager Darcy Alexander is well aware of the issue and said the resort has been working to find both short and
long-term solutions.

Construction has begun on a new temporary structure to house 50 resort and Sun Peaks Grand Hotel staff, which Alexander said he believed will alleviate some of the difficulty for employees of other businesses.

The temporary structure will last two years and be placed near the existing resort staff housing. In that time the resort plans to work with businesses and the municipality to find longer
term solutions.

“We have absolutely already committed to help,” Alexander said. “We want staff and guests to have beds.”

The resort has looked at the feasibility of running a staff shuttle from Kamloops, renting additional properties for staff and building permanent housing structures.

Sun Peaks municipality’s role in finding a solution has been questioned but Mayor Al Raine says it’s important the cost is not subsidized by the municipality or
tax payers.

“We will work with business owners and employees to find and create staff housing,” Raine said. “But the owners need to be in charge, not the municipality.”

A Sun Peaks Housing Authority is currently in the planning stages to start in the spring of 2017.

The authority will work with new developments to keep a certain per cent of units in a pool for approved residents to purchase. When sold, the properties can only be sold back to other approved Authority members.

Raine said he hopes this system would make homes more affordable for families living and working at Sun Peaks by keeping them below market value, therefore freeing up rental units for seasonal staff.

Another change that may be implemented by the municipality is permitting fewer suites or homes for short-term rental to encourage long-term rentals.

In the meantime, the housing shortage will continue to affect hiring and business practices in the village leaving owners to create their own solutions.

Reiner Brecht, owner of Bear Country Property Management, said the current housing situation is “a huge problem” for his business and they purchased and rented housing for
their employees.

It’s a high additional cost and the properties must be kept year-round, despite only being needed for the busy winter season.

“If we did not have our own housing we could not operate,” he said.

Bear Country was forced to operate at a reduced capacity last year because of a lack of staff. Rooms in their hotel were left empty as there was simply not enough staff to manage and clean the property at full capacity.

“If you don’t have staff you have to close down,” Reiner said. “You also need to provide proper service for your
customers.”

Reiner said hiring foreign staff is necessary because the limited number of permanent locals can’t staff every business.

Smaller businesses, such as Vertical Café, have smaller budgets that don’t allow for purchasing housing for staff and rely on rental units.

“There needs to be more,” said Kolodka. “We would definitely be open to collective staff housing for people who don’t work for the resort.”

Liz Forster, managing broker of Sotheby’s International Realty at Sun Peaks, said the staff housing shortage was not helped by a sudden change in the real estate market in 2016.

“It’s definitely having an impact,” Forster said. “In 2016 the pace picked up and sales started to occur again.”

Forster said housing in a typical local employee’s price range has quickly sold and the people who are purchasing units are using them more.

“People that are buying are more likely to want to be here themselves for longer periods of time or even full-time so they are coming out of the rental pool,” said Forster.

She said she supported the creation of a housing authority and acknowledged there was a large need.

As a response to rental shortage, the Sun Peaks Hostel has upped their number of available long-term beds from four to 10.

Ash Hanna, owner of the hostel, said all 10 of the long-term spaces are full with a growing wait list.

The hostel has plans to physically expand to accommodate more long-term guests
next year.

Comments

comments

2 COMMENTS

  1. Poor planning on the councils / SPR part should not fall back on the owners of homes/condos etc. The mayor should realize the short term rental owners also use the mountain and do not necessarily do so every weekend, so they choose to rent. This does bring tourists to the municipality to spend $$$$. If they cannot do short term rentals they most likely will not rent at all.

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