Of all the items on Whistler’s to-do list, one of the longest-running chores — and the one that’s been the most challenging to get started — is finding a housing solution for Whistler’s growing senior population.
Gord Leidal, the Mature Action Committee representative on the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), said the issue came up at their last MAC meeting. He said they will likely do a survey of their membership in the New Year to determine the best course of action now that Holborn’s proposed development at the bottom of Northlands Boulevard is off the table and another proposed project at Lot 10 at Rainbow have stalled.
“We haven’t initiated any surveys of our membership in a year and a half, since our last go-around related to Lot 10 at Rainbow,” he said. “We have to confirm interest from our members before we go back to the WHA and municipality and suggest moving forward with the development in Rainbow.”
Seniors housing was included in the rezoning application put forward by The Holborn Group for the land that includes the Whistler Racquet Club, but last January the application was pulled by the company over concerns about the economic viability of what was proposed. That proposal for the 12-acre site had been on the books since 2008, and nothing has been announced regarding the land since January’s announcement.
As well, seniors housing projects were planned for Rainbow and Cheakamus Crossing, but both projects required seniors to buy in before construction started. Leidal said that most recent proposal for eight units in a building at Rainbow only attracted interest from four buyers. The previous idea put forward by the developer in 2010 was rejected by council as too expensive.
Leidal said a lot of seniors were holding out for the Holborn site because of the location in the village, close to a grocery store, pharmacy, transit and the Whistler Health Care Centre. However, with that project now stalled he said there might be more interest for other projects including Lot 10 at Rainbow.
He also believes that the current strategy is flawed, and they may have to build first and worry about finding tenants/owners later.
“It always has been a huge challenge when the initiative is a new development and you need to get a commitment from the seniors, and get them to put money up for a development that can’t be delivered for two years,” said Leidal. “For a senior, that’s a long time to make that kind of a commitment.
“My feeling is that once units are in place and there’s a gradual turnover, it won’t be long until (units are) filled with seniors, but to start with eight or 20 or 30 units and ask for the money up front, it’s difficult to come up with that many seniors all at once.”
Leidal said the demand is increasing with more seniors retiring to Whistler. The next step might be to look at a combination model with a partner like the WHA where half the units would be sold and half rented out.
There have been a few minor housing developments for seniors.
For example, one townhouse unit going through foreclosure in Cheakamus Crossing will be reserved for a senior on Whistler Housing Authority’s housing list. Up to 24 units in the neighbourhood already give preference to seniors on the waitlist, but only a handful of seniors have taken advantage so far.
As well, the commercial development in Rainbow that was approved this year could have four units set aside for seniors.
“Those are the only somewhat active initiatives that are underway now,” said Leidal.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden also sits on the WHA board, and said she planned on bringing up the topic again at the Friday (Dec. 13) meeting.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about (as a community) for a long time, and there certainly is a need in the community and that need is going to grow as baby boomers age,” she said.
“I do have a concern that we don’t seem to be moving forward, and not just at Holborn but at the site at Rainbow as well.
“Right now it’s not very high on the council agenda, but I’d like to see it higher on the WHA agenda.”