On average, couples and families living in Whistler are slightly better off than they were a few years ago, according to the latest report compiled by the Whistler Centre for Sustainability (WSC) for the municipality's Whistler 2020 Monitoring Program. Cost-of-living has decreased across the board.
The report was presented to Whistler Council recently and included data on Whistler's five priorities for success, including everything from reducing energy consumption to enhancing the visitor experience. Some of the priorities and measurements are concerned with quality of life issues for residents, as well as resident affordability.
Dan Wilson, a sustainability planner for the WCS, noted that the situation is improving on the affordability front for families, looking at the amount of money a sample family would need to spend to live in Whistler.
"As far as resident affordability goes, essentially the cost of living in Whistler at the high scale has improved over the years and is closer to where it was in 2007," he said.
According to statistics compiled by WCS, roughly 25 per cent of permanent residents had incomes or combined incomes that were below the cost of living — the lowest amount since 2007, and down eight percentage points compared to 2010 and six percentage points from 2008. Couples with no kids have also benefited, with the number not meeting the cost of living decreasing from 45 per cent to 25 per cent from 2010 to 2011.
One of the main reasons for the reduced cost of living, said Wilson, is lower accommodation costs — the result of lower-priced rentals and a smaller overall workforce. The run-up to the 2010 Games also hiked rental rates higher than normal.
More locals also own homes as a result of new employee-restricted housing at Cheakamus Crossing, Rainbow and elsewhere. Meanwhile, mortgage rates are at historic lows and owners are able to rent rooms and homes in their places for less money.
"(The cost of living) is primarily driven by the reduction — in recent years anyway — of housing costs," Wilson explained. "When we build our basket of goods, housing is always the biggest item on the list and it's come down quite a bit." While the numbers specifically look at rent costs, mortgage rates are also at historic lows.
But while more families and couples were earning combined incomes that matched or exceed cost-of-living numbers, individuals are continuing to fall short in greater numbers. "That's the household type that has the biggest challenge with affordability," confirmed Wilson.
The number of one-person households where incomes don't meet costs actually increased two per cent from 2010 to 2011 to 35 per cent. That group was more likely to live in market rental housing as well, and while their housing costs also dropped, Wilson said their overall costs did not. "It was interesting that we had some improvement in most household types in affordability, but as far as people being able to get the basket of goods improved for most households, for one-person owners it stayed about the same. So there are still some challenges there."
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