Housing, gap between rich and poor top the chart in Vital Signs survey 

Whistler changing with more immigrants, seniors moving here

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The latest Vital Signs survey for Whistler is on display at the Whistler Public Library — with typical results for key issues such as housing and earnings, but there are also a few surprises.

The survey — a national endeavour that assists in tracking community growth and engagement — depicts a changing resort town that is attracting more seniors and immigrants.

"There was a 107-per-cent increase in the number of immigrants to Whistler in 2013, compared to a 19-per-cent increase in Squamish," said Carol Coffey, executive director at the Community Foundation of Whistler. And the number of seniors — aged 65 and over — increased by 39 per cent over 2006.

"It's going to be really interesting to see how things change over time," said Coffey. "There seem to be a lot of retirees moving into town. They might be people who had a second home or who frequently visited Whistler and decided that they love it here and want to live here permanently. We're going to have to start thinking about senior support and what we can put in place to support these people and keep them in their homes for as long as possible."

For the increasing immigrant segment, Coffey said this would affect schools, for example, which may have to factor in ESL classes. As well, Coffey said these immigrants are not coming here to ski — they are coming here for jobs.

"It shatters the stereotype of the type of person moving to Whistler," she said.

Food-bank use increased by 32 per cent in 2015, and children participating in the Whistler Community Services supported school lunch program increased to 35 per cent just in the last three years, plus there was an increase in children using the food bank — from 19 per cent in 2014 to 25 per cent for 2015.

"It's not a surprise that housing has been rated as the No. 1 area for action," said Coffey, "along with the gap between rich and poor." This area was pegged as needing improvement, as was the work situation, which was cited as being "average" with more work needed. Of young adults in Whistler, 58 per cent of them make less than the living wage of $15.40 per hour. And 16 per cent of permanent residents reported making less than the living wage. An adult in a family of four needs to earn $21 per hour to afford the basic cost of living here.

More than 600 locals completed the survey that shows that 58 per cent of all dwellings in Whistler are unoccupied, and of the 42 per cent that are occupied, 36 per cent of those are rented. As of January this year, the benchmark price for a condo in Whistler was $332,100 — a 72.3-per-cent increase in five years. As well, the average rent for a two-bedroom unit in 2015 was $2,243 but only 10 per cent of individuals are able to afford this rent.

Accompanying graphs and charts show that housing is a red-line concern here with the issue rated as serious and needing immediate attention.

"I think it's interesting to see generally, though, that people rate the community fairly well," said Coffey. "There's really high marks for sports and recreations, arts and culture, the environment, health and safety — most of the areas rate pretty high. It's not all bad news.

"Our end goal is to have people have a strong sense of belonging in the community, that they're engaged and participating in what's going on and really bring people together to generate collective action," Coffey said. "We're not necessarily saying what that action is — we're just promoting knowledge to give people the tools to come together and have dialogue."

Carole Stretch, the Foundation board member who's helped to spearhead the Vital Signs project, said the process began almost a year ago.

"The biggest thing that struck me is how all these areas are connected — it's important to look at all these areas but not in isolation," Stretch said. "Health and wellness — crowded housing, those are safety issues." The next step is to get the message out there, and for locals to use this existing data in an approachable way.

"We want people to read it and use it as a basis for dialogue," Stretch said. On that note, a meeting is set for Oct. 24 at the Whistler Public Library for an open dialogue with all members of the community. "We want to start the conversation and get some real direction on how we can work together," she said. "This is just the beginning."


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