Worker sheltering last business hurdle in tourist town

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Paul Feather, vice president of the Collingwood Business Improvement Association and co-owner of the Fish and Sips restaurant poses for a photo at his restaurant in Collingwood, Ont., Thursday, June 30, 2022. When he opened Fish & Sips with his wife in 2015, Paul Feather found hiring to be one of the many challenges of running a restaurant with long hours on the main street in Collingwood, Ontario. But after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and house prices in holiday hotspots soared, the 49-year-old who tosses cod and calamari saw staffing as his Barrier #1, largely due to a shortage of affordable rental housing. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

When he opened Fish & Sips with his wife in 2015, Paul Feather found hiring was one of the many challenges of running a restaurant with long hours on the main street of Collingwood, Ontario. .

But after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and house prices in holiday hotspots soared, the 49-year-old who tosses cod and calamari saw staffing as his Barrier #1, largely due to a shortage of affordable places for workers. to rent out.

“It’s affordability, but also availability. There’s not enough rental stock for people to choose from,” Feather said from the dining room of the restaurant, which is being expanded.

His latest kitchen rental hasn’t found a place in town and travels by car – another obstacle when gas prices soar and regional public transport lags behind.

Feather is increasingly relying on high school and college students for the front of the house — “they’re already living at home” — but under-18s aren’t allowed to serve alcohol and are limited to accommodation, takeaway or cash register.

“It’s so incredibly difficult,” he said.

Businesses in tourist hotspots away from big cities are feeling the pinch of affordable housing, while smaller communities are struggling to attract workers amid labor shortages and rising rents.

Rentals.ca, a Canadian apartment rental search website, said the average rent for all Canadian properties listed on its site rose 10.5% year-over-year to 1,888 $ per month in May. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the national average home price topped $700,000 last month, up 41% from two years earlier, as the size of mortgages on the island grew. from Vancouver to Atlantic Canada.

Ontario’s cottage country was no exception. In southern Georgian Bay, which includes Collingwood, the median price of a single-family home rose nearly 28% in 2021 from a year earlier to $881,000, according to a report from Royal LePage. Prices increased by 49% in the Muskoka region in Ontario, by 29% in the Laurentians in Quebec and by 26% in the Eastern Townships.

The trend, which affects rental costs, shows no signs of slowing down. Re/Max Canada expects average home prices in “recreational” areas of Canada to rise 20% for the rest of the year, the brokerage said last month.

Meanwhile, the falling jobless rate is exacerbating labor issues for small-town retailers and tour operators, dropping to 5.1% in May and marking three consecutive months the key metric hit a new record high. .

“The problem has gotten so bad this year that many employers have started buying campers again to house their staff,” said Colleen Kennedy, executive director of the Gros Morne Co-operating Association, which works with Gross Morne National Park. Morne in Newfoundland. Others are scrambling to build or buy units for them.

Bilingual employees — key to a federally run park — and specialty chefs are especially hard to find because real estate and rental prices are beyond the means of young people, Kennedy said.

“It’s not a small problem, it’s a big problem. Because how do you grow the industry without having access to the human resources you need? All around, we’re really struggling this season. And it’s not going to get better; we expect tourism to grow.”

Short-term rentals like those on Airbnb complicate matters, further reducing availability but also increasing tourism numbers.

“When people buy these properties where they would have had long-term tenants, they put them on the Airbnb market instead because they can make in a few weekends a month what they would get from having a one-time tenant. full there,” said Ellen Timms, spokeswoman for the Wasaga Beach Chamber of Commerce.

“The staff shortage is very real,” she said, which also means workers are “overwhelmed.”

Down the street in Collingwood, where short-term rentals are illegal, around 300 such properties have been found on platforms including Airbnb, Flipkey and VRBO, according to a recent report from the licensing and compliance officer of the city.

Things aren’t much brighter in the west.

In the counterculture enclave of Nelson, British Columbia, the mountain town faced a rental vacancy rate of 0.6% in October, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. . On Vancouver Island, the surfer’s paradise of Tofino saw the average sale price of a home rise 51% to $1.72 million in the first three months of 2022 compared to the year previous year, according to a Re/Max report on “cottage and cottage” trends.

Ten years ago, the long housing shortage in the ski and hiking resort of Banff, Alberta, prompted Nancy Myles to start Banff Accommodation, a for-profit company that rents out common spaces for periods of three to six months for workers who parachute in for a gap year job.

Major employers like Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Sunshine Village Ski Resort and the Banff Center provide staff housing, “but they don’t have enough,” Myles said.

“Anybody living in Banff works in the tourism industry, which isn’t really that high paying – people aren’t bankers, they’re usually in minimum wage jobs,” she said. Hence the need for housing adapted to residents “passing through”.

Back near Collingwood, the pandemic and inflation have accelerated labor and housing affordability issues associated with outside real estate investors. But it also revealed a lack of childcare, insufficient public transport and local planning that failed to favor rental housing “in favor of a development of outdated single-family homes”, he said. Andrew Siegwart, president of the Blue Mountain Village Association, a marketing organization for the eponymous ski resort and local businesses.

Siegwart calls for municipal planning that provides a more diverse housing stock and provincial policies that support small tourist communities, noting that inclusive zoning – a regulatory tool that allows municipalities to require a certain share of new construction to be scope of low-income residents – does not apply to low-density areas.

“Accessible housing and related infrastructure has been our biggest file in five years,” he said.

It doesn’t look like it’s going to fade anytime soon.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 1, 2022.

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