Surviving in Whistler has always been a challenge for its young arrivals, but with hard work and a little creativity most people can manage to put a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. Thriving here, however, is a different story.
For the past four years the Whistler 2020 working group on Resident Affordability and the Resort Municipality of Whistler have used a number of indicators - a shopping basket of goods and services that includes housing, transportation, food and clothing - to determine the basic cost of living. They then compare those costs to wages to determine roughly how many season workers and long-term residents are living below the line.
At first glance the data is not encouraging.
According to the figures collected roughly 85 per cent of seasonal residents are earning less than the cost of living, up from 66 per cent in 2006 and 70 per cent in 2007.
The situation is not as dramatic for permanent residents, many of whom own houses and are raising families in Whistler. However, the indicators suggest that roughly 31 per cent of residents earned less than the cost of living in 2008, up from 27 per cent the previous year and 18 per cent in 2006. The figure for 2005, the first year data was kept, was 24 per cent.
There are many factors that the surveys don't account for, such as declines in employment hours and wages during poor snow years, which would include the 2008-09 season, or for seasonal workers that choose to work less than 40 hours per week.
Generally speaking, couples who combine incomes were better off than other groups and few had trouble meeting the minimum cost of living. Meanwhile families of three or more can have it tougher - 38 per cent fell below the basic cost of living in 2008 compared to 33 per cent in 2007. Single parents, usually single mothers, are often the most challenged demographic.
Mayor Ken Melamed said affordability has always been a major concern for the community and will likely take centre stage once again when the Olympics have wrapped up.
"It's always been on our minds, but the challenge has always been, what are the metrics, and what is it possible for a local government to do... without competing with businesses or giving businesses subsidies," he said. "It's largely a market-controlled situation, although we do what we can in the municipal framework."
For example, Melamed pointed to the recent decision to offer discounted six month and annual passes to ride the Whistler and Valley Express (WAVE) bus service, keeping costs low for parks and recreation programs, and amenities like the Valley Trail and mountain bike trails that are free to use. The Resort Municipality of Whistler was also responsible for the creation and expansion of the Whistler Housing Authority, which provides non-market housing for purchase and rent to Whistler employees.
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