With the community’s senior population continuing to grow each year, the demand for accessible housing will only increase, a fact that the municipality and Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) are looking to address in the future.
Seniors housing was brought to the forefront yet again at last Tuesday’s (Jan. 22) council meeting in an email addressed to the mayor from local resident Jim Horner, who expressed concern that there isn’t adequate housing available for one of Whistler’s fastest growing demographics.
“There are former Whistler residents down in the Squamish (seniors) facility, whom would love to be here,” read the email. “Pemberton too has respectful housing for its elders. I do not know of another town in our whole province as lacking in senior support as ours.”
The issue is one that has not been ignored by current and previous Whistler councils, with several different housing options coming under consideration at municipal hall in recent years.
There was a development proposed for a new tennis facility and seniors housing centre that reached third reading in 2008, but has since been abandoned by its proponents Holborn, which cited poor economic conditions preventing the project from moving forward.
“The developer hasn’t been interested in going ahead with that iteration of the project and they’ve withdrawn their rezoning application,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden Monday (Jan. 29). “My understanding is that they are reviewing their options at this point.”
The proposed development, which also included plans for a seniors activity centre, was considered a popular housing option within the senior community because of its proximity to the Village.
“From a seniors standpoint, we’re hopeful that when that development eventually goes ahead, the seniors housing component and the seniors activity centre will still be a part of it,” said the Mature Action Committee’s (MAC) representative on the WHA board, Gordon Leidal. “I think there’s a lot of support for that in the community.”
There are currently 24 price-restricted units for seniors in the community, all located in Cheakamus Crossing. Seniors on the MAC waiting list are given priority for these units. Six of the units are townhomes while the remaining 18 are apartment-style units. Currently, only half a dozen of the available units are occupied.
“There wasn’t as much interest as we expected for various reasons. I guess in part it was the location of Cheakamus Crossing, it was new and seniors were looking to be closer to the Village and accessing their various needs,” said Leidal. “The other part of it was transportation down there, which was somewhat sporadic in terms of the public bus service and at the time (of construction), it was very uncertain in terms of what it was going to be.”
With Whistler’s senior population increasing by roughly 35 per cent between 2006 and 2011, according to recent census data, it’s clear that providing accessible and affordable housing for seniors will be necessary in the long term.
“The next demographic that’s coming along, the people who are in the 50 to 55 range, they’re a large group,” said Leidal. “They’re going to become seniors pretty soon so the demand is going to become fairly significant.”
In spite of the growing senior population, there hasn’t been much interest in developing a seniors-only facility in Whistler, like one that was proposed for Rainbow, according to recent surveys administered by the WHA.
This is due in part, according to Leidal, to the challenge in getting enough seniors together who are willing to uproot themselves and move all at once into a new facility that could take years to complete.
The good news is, however, that there will several seniors-designated units available of the 49 currently being developed in Rainbow.
The ownership-style units will be market priced on first sale, said Leidal, and after that the price would only increase in accordance with WHA guidelines, which are tied into the consumer-price index. Even so, the units will likely be less affordable for seniors than the price-restricted units in Cheakamus.
“It’s still very preliminary and once the planning for the entire commercial complex (at Rainbow) is further along, we’ll then be in a position where we can meet again with the seniors to get their input on appropriately designed seniors housing, and then from there we’ll look to do another expression of interest for those units,” said WHA general manager Marla Zucht.
Construction has yet to begin on the proposed grocery store, gas station and other commercial space slated for Rainbow.
Leidal also thinks Whistler will have to look at the potential for an assisted-living seniors facility in the future, with more seniors aging in place, although the chances of a facility being developed in the near future look slim.
“The assisted living idea gets a little complicated because we don’t have a hospital in Whistler,” said Wilhem-Morden. “It has been a topic of discussion (for the municipality), but there’s not any real planning that’s been done for that yet that I’m aware of.”
One of the MAC’s goals for 2013 is extending its reach into the senior community so that all the people that require housing assistance are aware of the non-profit organization and its services. There are currently around 250 seniors who belong to the MAC, although there are 1,975 people over the age of 55 in the community, according to Census Canada.