Hospitality group plans ‘camp’ to alleviate housing shortage for seasonal workers

By on April 14, 2018

A standard room in the “camp” meets basic accommodation requirements. (Contributed photo)

A group representing some key players in the local hospitality industry is promoting a plan to establish low-cost seasonal housing for tourism and hospitality employees.

The Osoyoos Employee Housing Society, a non-profit, will be speaking to Osoyoos Town Council at its committee of the whole meeting on Monday morning.

Representing the group are Daniel Bibby, executive director of Spirit Ridge Hyatt, Glen Harris of Osoyoos Shoreline Developments, and Ingrid Jarrett, general manager of Watermark Beach Resort.

Other directors are Joanne Muirhead, chair of Destination Osoyoos, and Debra Gillis.

The society is also partnering with the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB), which will lease to the group some land to the east of town for a 49-room “camp,” a mobile building used by Suncor for its oil workers in northern Alberta.

The land for the camp is north of Highway 3 between Rattlesnake Canyon and the Nk’Mip Corner Petro Canada and is set back from the highway.

In its presentation to council, the society will be asking the town to provide utility connections for water and sewer to the camp.

The society has provided support letters from Destination Osoyoos (DO) and the Osoyoos Hotel and Motel Association (OHMA).

In a letter to council, the society said it was formed due to the lack of employee housing from May through to the end of October each year.

“As a result, the growing tourism economy is at risk,” the letter said. “The tourism economy is the single most important industry for Osoyoos and the Thompson Okanagan Region as a whole.”

The tourism industry is experiencing a critical shortage of qualified employees throughout the province and the competition for employees exacerbates the shortage in Osoyoos, said the letter signed by Bibby, Harris and Jarrett.

The shortage of short-term rental housing is hindering the recruitment of seasonal staff and this shortage is being exacerbated by vacation rentals through Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner), said the letter.

“There [is] literally a fraction of the necessary housing available to operate at capacity for our tourism businesses,” said the letter.

The society said its goal is to have the employee housing project ready for use by this spring. Despite the short time frame, they believe that goal is achievable with the partnerships working together.

The “camp” has 49 rooms, male and female washrooms, shared laundry facilities and a gathering area for residents.

A deposit has now been paid for the camp and the land lease with OIB has been secured.

The budget to relocate the camp is $125,000. The project is intended to break even over time, the society said.

In a letter of support on behalf of DO, Muirhead noted that the lack of affordable housing impacts the ability of the community to grow its economy.

“The challenge is exacerbated in the resort-style communities such as ours in which many of the residents are seasonal workers earning minimum wage or just above minimum wage,” said Muirhead. “Accommodations suitable for this type of tenant are almost non-existent, forcing individuals interested in seasonal employment to find their own solutions in housing situations that are in some cases not even meeting provincial tenancy standards.”

DO calculates that Osoyoos and its surrounding area employ more than 3,500 people directly related to the tourism industry. That industry generates $33.2 million annually by hosting about 70,000 visitors, Muirhead said.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

 

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