“Every day gets harder”: Fernie ski staff and locals struggle to find affordable accommodation

The ski season has just started, but some seasonal workers in Fernie, BC, say a lack of available housing means they are struggling to put a roof over their heads.

Alexis Gaudreault, a 21-year-old Montrealer, works at the Fernie Ski Resort, where he is paid minimum wage to make artificial snow, sometimes 12 hours a day.

But instead of heading to a warm house at the end of his shifts, Gaudreault tidies the inside of his car to sleep for the night – a routine that has lasted for three weeks now.

He says he is unable to find accommodation that meets his budget of $ 500 per month.

Alexis Gaudreault says that since arriving in Fernie a few weeks ago, he has been sleeping in his car. (Axel Tardieu / Radio-Canada)

“I search the Internet every day for one to two hours. It’s either too expensive or it’s falling too fast,” he said.

The trunk of his car serves as a kitchen counter. The city’s aquatic center is where he takes a shower. And it is in the alley of a grocery store that he parks his car for the night.

“It’s not easy. It’s cold. You feel lonely in your car [and] with the onset of winter, it will be tricky, ”he said.

Soaring real estate prices

It is not only the young Quebecer who is struggling to find shelter. Several workers at the ski resort are sleeping either in their vehicles, in a hostel, or on the couch of an acquaintance in the hope of receiving a positive response from one of the Facebook groups dedicated to the search for. housing.

Sabrina Lavallée will be working as a housekeeper in a lodge in December and considers herself lucky to have been able to find a home. After two months of digging and only finding rooms over $ 1,000 a month, the 23-year-old resides in a $ 750 bunk bed she shares with an Ontarian.

“I have seen several people sleeping in their cars. It is worrying,” she said.

Phil Gadd, an area real estate agent, says the average price of a single-family home has increased 19% in one year and 48% in four years.

“In Fernie we currently have 14 single family homes for sale. The average is normally around 40 to 50. There is currently a chronic shortage of homes for sale, ”he said.

“A lot of people, you know, took advantage of the sellers’ market and sold their homes, and a lot of those homes sold were used for rental.”

According to the latest Housing Needs Report for the Town of Fernie, rental rates have increased for temporary seasonal workers, leaving many living in overcrowded situations.

Three months to find a new home

Locals who live in Fernie year round are also suffering.

Léanne Gascon, 48, had to leave the house she had occupied for seven years with her daughter in August.

“The owner wanted to sell it. I got fired. It took me three months to find another place,” she said.

Gascon, who runs a small business that cleans Airbnb properties, says there is another culprit for the city’s housing shortage.

“It’s the fault of the Calgarians who buy all the houses. Of my 50 [Airbnb] clients, 42 are from Calgary.

The single mom is now worried that she will be forced to leave her home again next year.

Brad Parsell, CEO of the Fernie Chamber of Commerce, admits these housing difficulties, coupled with recruiting challenges, pose a real danger to Fernie’s 600 businesses.

“Frontline workers are essential to ensure the best possible experience for tourists,” he says.

Businesses like Tim Hortons have had to shut down for several days this summer due to understaffing.

Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza said if Fernie Ski Resort accommodates its staff, it will reduce pressure on the town’s rental market. (Axel Tardieu / CBC)

This has prompted some companies to take the lead and offer accommodations to their employees.

After having closed several days during the summer for lack of personnel, Claude Perreault, owner of the Bridge Bistro, spent more than $ 500,000 for a condominium.

He says that from next May, he will house three employees there for the year for a modest rent.

“It is going to be positive for both sides,” he said.

The mayor is looking for solutions

Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza said finding housing solutions was the city council’s priority.

According to her, one solution would be for the ski resort, the biggest employer in winter, to commit to adequately housing its seasonal staff.

“We have been in discussion with Fernie Ski Resort for years. This would reduce the pressure on our rental market, ”Qualizza said.

But Matt Mosteller, spokesperson for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies – the company that owns this ski resort – says it’s not that easy to set up.

“We do not own any land in the community or town of Fernie. So we also believe the solution will be multi-faceted,” he said.

“We collaborate with community stakeholders and the Town of Fernie, Chamber of Commerce [and] other business entities are constantly looking for ways to find a solution to this problem. “

Another remedy, according to the mayor, would be to build more affordable housing with financial help from Ottawa.

The North End Court complex is aimed at low-income households. It will consist of 49 apartments and should welcome its first residents in May 2022. (Axel Tardieu / CBC)

Driving around Fernie, one can count a large number of housing units under construction, but only one upcoming project is aimed at low-income households, and will not welcome residents until May 2022.

Until then, time is running out for seasonal workers.

While Gaudreault waits to find a roof, he intends to continue sleeping in his car, but he will only be able to do so until December.

If nothing happens by then, he says he will leave Fernie and quit his job at the ski resort.

“Every day is getting more and more difficult, so I think in a few weeks it will be impossible to do.”

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