Seniors housing task force starts by collecting data 

One of the initial questions posed at the first seniors housing task force meeting got right to the heart of the matter of building a retirement community in the resort.

"Has there been any land identified?" asked task force member Bonnie Munster.

The chair of the task force, Councillor Marianne Wade, said a site has not yet been chosen.

"Before you can select land, you need to know the terms of reference," she said.

This new task force, made up of about 12 community members, has been charged with identifying those terms of reference for a seniors housing development.

About half of the task force members are also members of the Mature Action Committee, a group that has been dedicated to building a seniors community in Whistler for the past decade.

One of the first initiatives of the task force is to gather more information about the aging population trends in Whistler.

Current data from Census Canada points to an increasing aging population.

The number of people in Whistler over 65 years old increased 125 per cent from 1996-2001. There were 100 people in that age category in 1996 compared to 225 people in 2001.

Similarly, there was a 104 per cent increase in the 55 to 64 year old age group in that same time frame. In 1996 there were 240 people in that age bracket, compared to 490 in 2001.

Despite those increases Whistler still has a relatively small percentage of its population in the older age categories, compared to provincial averages.

Provincially the numbers reveal 13.6 per cent of the population is in the over 65 age group, compared to 2.5 per cent in Whistler.

But the resort’s percentage may be on the rise if current trends continue.

Those trends point to a pattern of more "locals" choosing to stay in Whistler rather than retire elsewhere. In addition, more people are coming to the resort and choosing to retire here.

"What we do know anecdotally is that we do have an increasing number of people who want to stay here," said Tim Wake, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority at last Friday’s meeting.

"Part of that number is people who were leaving before age 50 and are now staying.

"I think we have to recognize that we do have seniors who are choosing to retire here."

Wake said there are synergies there that perhaps point to the benefits of doing a combination of market and restricted resident housing.

For the purposes of the task force as they begin to flesh out their vision of a seniors housing complex in Whistler, there is a distinction between seniors who have worked here and seniors who are retiring here.

At the first meeting members began to define the requirements for occupancy for the first seniors housing development.

To be eligible they would have to meet the MAC requirements, which say they must be 55 years old and have lived in Whistler as their primary residence for the at least five of the last 10 years.

Or they have to meet the WHA’s requirements, which say they are retired after being employed in Whistler for five of the last six years.

"(MAC’s) main emphasis was to provide seniors housing for residents in this area who have lived here so we can continue to have a balanced community," said MAC and task force member Doug Deeks.

"We were very conscious of the potential influx of people (coming just to retire)."

At the same time Councillor Caroline Lamont who is also part of the task force said it would be good to show Whistler is a community friendly to seniors coming here, investing their money into the community and volunteering their time.

The task force will meet every week throughout May and their work will culminate in a report to council in early June.

In the meantime the task force is attempting to get a clearer picture of seniors’ needs in Whistler by polling residents through Chamber of Commerce and WHA surveys.

Anyone in the community who is interested in community retirement housing should contact MAC President Gord Leidal at 604-932-5699 or e-mail at leidal@whooshnet.com.

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